Portsmouth – Royal Garrison Church

The Royal Garrison Church, now in the care of English Heritage, is no longer used for worship, but it is open to the public during the summer months thanks to the services of a friendly team of volunteers.   BQ and I had intended to visit the church on a couple of previous occasions but somehow plans fell through.  But now, its imminent closure for the winter spurred us on to arrange this visit.  


The Garrison Church, or Domus Dei as it was originally known, was founded in about 1212 by the Bishop of Winchester, as part of a complex of buildings serving as a hostel for pilgrims and a hospital for the sick and elderly.  It consisted of an aisled hall (now the ruined nave) and a chapel. 

In 1450, Domus Dei was the site of the infamous murder of the Bishop of Chichester.  He had been sent to Portsmouth as Keeper of the Privy Seal to make reduced payments to the ship-men of Portsmouth on account of their unruly behaviour during church services. Whilst conducting another service, a group of seamen burst in, dragged out the bishop and murdered him.   In retribution, all of the residents of Portsmouth were excommunicated by the Pope. This excommunication was in place for 60 years and was only removed after leading citizens underwent a ritual of penance which involved being beaten by rods. The city also had to agree to erect a cross and a chapel where prayers for the Bishop’s soul should be said every Good Friday.  (This piece of information answers a query raised in an earlier blog).

After the Reformation in 1540, the building was used as an ammunition store, and it started to decay, but in 1559 the great Elizabethan project to build up the defences at Portsmouth began. The medieval hospital became part of the governor’s house, where two significant events in the history of the site took place.  These were the marriage of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza in 1662 and the grand receptions held in June 1814 to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon.  The receptions were attended by the Prince Regent, the Emperor of Russia, the King of Prussia and his general, Field-Marshal Blücher.

In 1826 Government House was demolished and, some time later, a reconstruction of the church interior was commissioned.   Restoration was completed in 1868.


The Portsmouth that we see today has been largely rebuilt following the widespread destruction suffered during World War II.   The huge Naval Base in the heart of the city was a prime target for enemy aircraft and, as a result, the town and the civilian population paid a heavy price.  The nightmare began on 10th January, 1941.   At around 7 pm the German Luftwaffe attacked Portsmouth in a raid that lasted two hours, only to return again a couple of hours later. Nearly 300 raiders dropped a total of 25,000 incendiaries and hundreds of high explosive bombs which damaged the city to an extent no one could have imagined. Not only did 170 people lose their lives, the city also lost six of its churches and its three major shopping centres.   Remarkably, the Royal Garrison Church remained structurally intact although it suffered a direct hit by a firebomb which destroyed the roof of the nave.  It was only due to the heroic efforts of the team of firefighters, who tackled the inferno despite the continuing air attack, that the choir and chancel was saved.    Unfortunately this was just the first of many raids that the city experienced before peace was restored and one has to admire the courage and fortitude of the population that stayed put and kept the city functioning.

The main nave roof was never repaired giving it the distinctive appearance that we see today.  However the two side sections were eventually replaced by the local council in order to protect the ancient wall memorials.

x Nave

All that remains of the nave.

x Choir

During the 19th century restoration, a lavish redecoration and the installation of the organ was carried out thanks to the generosity of many individuals.   The oak stalls were dedicated to the memory of famous men including Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.

x Altar

The chancel.  Unusually, the silver-gilt church plate is on display on the altar.   This is the first time in all our church visits that we have seen the church plate.  Normally it is kept firmly under lock and key.

x Window 2
One of the more unfortunate casualties of the firebomb attack was the original stained glass windows. Some were subsequently restored, but others were replaced with windows of modern designs such as the one above.  To my eye it seems odd and a little jarring to see military scenes in a church window.  I am not sure if they are unique, perhaps our readers will let me know if they have seen others.

x Volunteers

Our grateful thanks to the team of friendly and knowledgeable volunteers.  They made our visit so much more interesting and enjoyable.  Without volunteers it would not be possible to open the Garrison Church at all.   If you should live in or around Portsmouth and have time to spare, then please do consider joining this happy team.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

BQ and I have visited the Dockyard many times over the years, firstly with children then, later on with grandchildren and on occasions with visiting friends or relations.   It is an excellent day out.  However, neither of us had been back since the much heralded opening of the Mary Rose Museum a couple of years ago and, as we were so close, this seemed to be a perfect opportunity to see if it lived up to all the hype.

x Warrior

The Mary Rose Museum is quite a distance from the entrance so BQ waited for the golf buggy that was shuttling back and forth while I strolled up looking at some of the famous exhibits. 

Shown above is HMS Warrior, the pride of Queen Victoria’s Fleet.  Powered by both steam and sail, when she was launched in 1860 she was the largest and most powerful warship in the world. Such was her reputation that enemy fleets were intimidated by her obvious supremacy and so she never needed to fire a shot in anger.

In the background is the notorious Spinnaker Tower which was originally to be called the Portsmouth Millennium Tower.  It was conceived in 1995 with an opening date planned for late 1999.  However, due to political, financial, contractual and engineering problems construction didn’t even begin until 2001 and wasn’t completed until 2005, five years late and £11 million over budget.   The backers of the tower had hoped to put its troubles behind it for the grand opening ceremony attended by VIPs.    As they watched, the project manager, accompanied by representatives from the main contractors and lift manufacturer, were supposed to glide to the top in the external glass lift.  It shuddered to a halt 100 ft up and for the next 1 hr 40 minutes, the lift remained obstinately stuck.   

On a happier note the tower in now open to the public, the external glass lift has been removed, the views are spectacular, and for just £80, a couple can enjoy afternoon tea and a bottle of Prosecco in the summit observation room!

x Victory 2

HMS Victory.  Laid down in 1759, Victory was a First Rate, the most powerful type of ship of her day with three gun decks mounting 100 guns.  Victory’s most famous Admiral was Horatio Nelson who flew his flag from her between May 1803 and October 1805 as Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet.  On 21 October 1805, Victory led the British fleet into battle off Cape Trafalgar against the Franco-Spanish force; at 11.48 the most famous signal in the history of the Royal Navy, ‘England Expects That Every Man Will Do His Duty’ flew from her masthead.  Nelson was shot by a French marksman at the height of the battle and later died when victory was assured. Out of a crew of 821, Victory had 57 men killed and 102 wounded demonstrating the serious nature of the fighting.

The Mary Rose


The warship Mary Rose was the flagship of Henry VIII’s fleet.  It was completed in 1512 and remained in service until 19th July 1545 when it capsized in the Solent while leading an attack on the French invasion fleet.  The wreck was rediscovered in 1971 and was raised in 1982 along with 26,000 artefacts plus the remains of about half the crew.  It was one of the most complex projects in the history of maritime archaeology.  Conserving the hull of the Mary Rose was the most expensive and time consuming part of the project and it wasn’t until 2016 that the ship could finally be seen dry – for the first time since 1545.

x Mary Rose

The first impression on entering the museum is just how incredibly dark it was.  This might have been because of the contrast with the bright sunshine outside, but we both found it quite disconcerting particularly because the interior was packed with other visitors. Once we were part of the throng, we moved with the general flow of humanity through air tight double doors, around corners and along corridors until we were finally in the hall that contains the remains of the Mary Rose – albeit just 50% of the original ship.  The other half which hadn’t been protected by being buried in silt had long since rotted away.  To appreciate the size of the ship, look at the people standing in the three viewing levels in the background.  Light is clearly the enemy of the fragile timbers as the wreck remained in near darkness except for a brief period of illumination every 10 minutes or so .  Each time it was bathed in light, it was to the accompaniment of the sound of mass clicking camera shutters – including mine.

Becketts Restaurant

x Becketts

x DeeSituated in one of the few surviving pre-war buildings in this part of the city, Beckett’s Restaurant has a well deserved reputation for good food.  I thoroughly enjoyed my meal although I didn’t much like the glutinous look of BQ’s mac’n cheese. But he cleared his plate then waxed lyrical as he ate the bread and butter pudding.  If it was half as good as my passion fruit tart I can understand why.  As with so many of our past Dine and Divine meals our lunch was made all the more pleasurable by the efficiency and charm of the person serving us.  The elegant Dee definitely epitomised these qualities.


BQ’s Impressions

In 1982 I moved the family from Durham to Southampton, much to their disgust, although my son, then aged eight, was somewhat mollified by the fact that Kevin Keegan had signed to play for the Saints.  My new house was within walking distance of the Dell and he would not have to change the red and white stripes of his beloved Sunderland. Just don’t ask how his team is doing at the moment!   Driving into the car park adjacent to the Garrison Church immediately brought back the mixed feelings that I had at that time.  For, next to the church, was the harbour wall where we stood 36 years ago and watched the fleet set sail for the Falkland conflict.   I told my family that this would be the last time that they would see a battle fleet leave harbour primed for conflict as everyone would surely come to their senses when they realised just how long it would take to reach their destination.  However, I was proved wrong and now we have a replacement for HMS Invincible, although with no planes, proving that there is nothing new in this world.

Conflict is a good place to start in considering the history of the church, as it was fire bombed during the Second World War, although it was left in a better condition than the many churches that were vandalised during the reformation.  Although the nave was left as a shell, it is an attractive shell, the fire bomb left the main structure intact, and indeed the whole early English choir and chancel is in good condition.  The pillars are fine, topped with decorative corbels and the structure is very well maintained.  The chancel is excellently preserved and was warm and welcoming on this sharp first cold morning of the year.  The stalls were very comfortable indeed.  With the excellent volunteer staff it was quite a wrench to have to venture out into the stiff breeze and make our way to Beckett’s for lunch.

On arrival I felt that I had by accident arrived in an 18/30 disco in Ibiza as the music thumped away with very little tune discernible. I asked the waitresses if there was a quieter area and she helpfully signified that there was.  During this dialogue MW was outside photographing the exterior. On his return I proudly announced that I had already negotiated a change of table to which he replied ‘I am quite happy here thank you’. * My meal was a strange mixture of Mac (ugh) cheese and crab although I was hard pressed to locate, both in taste or sight, much of the crab.  Still, with the samphire and sun dried tomatoes it was very tasty.  Everything however, paled into insignificance as the pud arrived, the lightest and most delicate bread and butter pudding I have ever tasted.   Sorry Mum I hope you don’t turn in your grave!

* There was a reason! mw


Our Lunch

  • Crab mac’n cheese, topped with sundried tomatoes and crunchy samphire served with garlic bread  BQ
  • Chilli and lime smashed avocado open sandwich, served with roasted vegetables, cherry tomatoes and frites  MW
  • Becketts bread and butter pudding, layered with white chocolate, apricot jam served with nutmeg and clementine cream  BQ
  • Passion fruit tart, served with lemon curd ice cream  MW
  • Merlot  BQ
  • Chenin Blanc  MW



Netley – Royal Victoria Hospital Chapel



Original Hospital a

The Chapel is all that remains of what was, at the time of its construction, the longest building in the world.  Look carefully at the above photograph and you can just about see the dome of the chapel in the very centre of the vast structure.

The foundation stone for the The Royal Victoria Hospital was laid by Queen Victoria in May 1856 and construction began.  However, some months later Florence Nightingale returned from the Crimea and on visiting the site stated – “It seems to me that at Netley all consideration of what would best tend to the comfort and recovery of the patients has been sacrificed to the vanity of the architect, whose sole object has been to make a building which should cut a dash when looked at from Southampton River. Pray stop all work”.  But, it was too late, construction was well under way and only minor alterations were possible. The hospital eventually opened in March 1863 – late and over budget (nothing has changed). It was a quarter of a mile long with 138 wards and a thousand beds.  Sadly Florence Nightingale’s instincts proved to be right.  The building although grand and visually attractive, was neither convenient nor practical. Corridors were on the sea-facing front of the building, leaving the wards overlooking the inner courtyard with little light and air. Ventilation in general was poor, with unpleasant smells lingering around the vast building.  But nevertheless it remained in use for just over 100 years.  Throughout its life it was popularly known by the patients as ‘The Palace of Pain’.   During the first world war a large hutted extension was built at the rear increasing the number of beds to 2,500.   Over 50,000 patients were treated.   It was just as busy during World War ll when around 68,000 casualties were treated. In 1944, anticipating large numbers of casualties, US forces took over the hospital prior to the D-Day landings.

The hospital fell into disuse during the 1950’s due to the high costs of maintenance and the main site closed in 1958. Following a huge fire in 1963 the entire building was demolished, just the chapel was spared and then only after a vociferous campaign by local residents.


Last month BQ sent me an article about the Netley Chapel. It was about to reopen – a year late – after a lengthy closure in order to restore the building back to its original glory. It had cost £3.5 million – thanks to the generosity of the Lottery Fund.

The whole area is now known as the Queen Victoria Country Park and is popular with families. BQ thought it would be an interesting candidate for a D & D visit and so it turned out to be. I scarcely knew of the Chapel but BQ knows it well. 

x nave

Inside the building, which has been beautifully restored, it is more museum than chapel. There are many interactive exhibits and plenty of stories of individuals whose lives were saved there and what they went on to achieve in later life – all very moving.

x Netley Chapel Galleries

The galleries with the biographies of some of the casualties who passed through.

The chancel with pulpit and organ is a reminder that this is still a consecrated building.

I was amused to see the crude method that was used to fine tune the organ pipes. I can imagine an assistant being sent up with a pair of tin snips while the organ tuner shouted up instructions.

The rather sinister looking Iron Lung

During research, I came across this intriguing image of the hospital shortly after it’s opening. It was being offered by a seller in Germany on eBay at the compelling price of €2. I had assumed it would be a postcard but, when it arrived, I found it was much smaller, in fact it was a ‘carte de visite’, the precursor of the postcard. It had been published by a James Dear, a ‘Fancy Bazaar Keeper” who had premises close to the hospital. Further research revealed that James had previously been a ships carpenter, but realised the potential of selling souvenirs to the crowds of hospital visitors who arrived each afternoon to see the patients. Business was good, and this was the time of the craze for collecting and sending the new photographic CDV’s as they were known, and so James bought a camera and this is the first of a series of photos of the hospital that he published. As with most very early photos all of the people stare directly into the lens.

Sixty years on and now, in the mid 1920’s, the trees have matured and the camera has lost its novelty, the main interest seems to be lady dressed in the fashion of the day.

Another early image, but there are no clues to its origin nor just what it is that is portrayed. I assume that these are hospital orderlies with some patients brought out for the photograph. Our guide David Keating explained that, before the railway to the hospital was built, casualties arriving by ship at Southampton Docks had to be transferred onto horse drawn carriages for the last few miles to the hospital and I suspect that these are the carriages that can be seen in the background. Apparently many of the wounded didn’t survive this tortuous ride along the rutted roads and that once the branch line from docks to hospital was opened, fatalities on this final leg of their journey were reduced by 75%.

Hospital Life;  The days started with a 5.30am bugle call.  Patients helped with the cleaning of the endless corridors if they were able.  Once a week the Commanding Officer would inspect and award 200 cigarettes to the cleanest ward.  There were four meals a day and, after lunch, it was visiting time and patients could stroll around the grounds or pay a visit to the nearby pubs in Netley as long as they were back in time for supper.  Lights out was at 9pm.

Queen Victoria shown here during one of her many visits to the hospital. She did not have far to travel as she was able to sail from the jetty near her Isle of Wight home (Osborne House), and land at the hospital pier in Southampton Water.

The kitchen staff look a disparate group, but by all accounts the food was much appreciated by the patients, hardly surprising perhaps, as many of them had previously been enduring life in the trenches.

Our excellent guide David. His father arrived at the hospital as a patient during the Second World War and married one of the nurses. Despite a prosthetic leg, David managed the seemingly endless steps to the top of the tower where he told us many amusing (and harrowing) tales of life at the hospital. Apparently when the Americans took over the hospital in 1944, there was great astonishment when they started using jeeps to travel along the wide 1/4 mile hospital corridor to get from section to section!

The view from the tower. After the lengthy drought during the past hot summer the original foundations of the building have become visible. Southampton Docks are in the background.

The Jolly Sailor

A favourite haunt of the yachting fraternity, the Jolly Sailor, situated on the banks of the River Hamble, was first established in 1751.  Even older is their neighbour, the famous Elephant Boatyard where Henry VIII’s fleet was built.   Some of our readers may remember it as the Mermaid Yard featured in the 80’s ‘Gin and Jag’ soap opera, Howard’s Way.  Scenes were filmed not only at the boatyard, but also at the Jolly Sailor where the glamorous cast could be seen, wheeling, dealing and seducing on the sunlit terrace. A nostalgic reminder of this hugely popular series, which ran for five years, is displayed near the bar in the form of a framed set of signed BBC publicity cast cards.

x Bar

x BQ and MW

I thought the food at the Jolly Sailor was good, although service was slow considering that it wasn’t busy.  My starter of smoked paprika and maple skewers with tempeh was both original and quite excellent.  Tempeh was new to me.  It turned out to be an Indonesian item and consisted of cultured and fermented soy beans formed into cakes, then roasted. Delicious.  BQ’s tiger prawns, swimming in hot garlic butter were enormous which he ate with obvious relish. He also much enjoyed the steak and ale pie, but I was less impressed with the rather dried up Gilthead Bream. I suspect that it had been kept in the hot plate while BQ’s giant pie finished cooking!  Hence the delay and hence four rather than five stars.


BQ’s Impressions

Magic Tree2
The Magic Tree

Welcome back old friend after two years of turmoil including bankruptcy, you’re looking better than ever.   My family’s association with the park and chapel stretches back a decade when it was selected as an ideal venue for the family mid-summer picnic, which was usually held on the nearest Sunday to the birthday of the matriarch.  The children loved the magic tree that spreads its low branches and, not only was it perfect for climbing, but could form an excellent den always worth defending from invaders.  At the end of the day, the evening cricket match was played against a backdrop of departing cruise liners.  In this frantic world it was always a magical afternoon reminiscent of the best of Enid Blyton!

The chapel, although cared for by an army of volunteers, was desperately in need of restoration, and the subsequent long period of closure has been well worthwhile now that one can once again access the interior.  The structure had always reminded me of a lone tooth left after the rest had decayed, and although the frontage on the Solent side still looks plain, it has been tidied up.  To those of us who never remembered the hospital buildings, it is now obvious that they were in front and the chapel was at the rear.  Even during its previous life there had been little of an ecclesiastical atmosphere within the chapel but it is good to see that the windows, pulpit and organ have been left undisturbed.

The interior structure with its metal columns is classic Victorian railway station and, as a result of the decision to mount an exhibition of its past reason for existence, we get an insight into its history in a vivid and memorable way.  What a catalogue of suffering and pointless slaughter it portrays, but in amongst this, so many portraits of heroism and gallantry shine from the gloom.  The enlargement and display of black and white early photographs are vivid, and within the faces, the whole story of sacrifice, stoicism and courage shines through.

Having lived in Southampton during the almost endless episodes of Howard’s Way it seemed a good time for my first visit to The Jolly Sailor while I still had the puff to manage the steps.  I found out afterwards that at my local pub, one wag was offering odds I would not make it.  Well, to his astonishment and my own I did, although I cannot see me going again. This I might add has nothing to do with the welcoming reception and excellent food ‘the spirit might be willing but the flesh is weak’.  It was unbelievable that here at last, I was in the same bar that was frequented by the legendary alcoholic Jack Rolfe from the Mermaid Yard whose traditional values upset his business partner Tom who wanted to design new and radical boats.  The view from the window was endless yachts to the far shore and the beamed bar was exceptionally snug.

Regular readers will get bored by my constant whinge about napkins, suffice to say they were not to my liking, the food however was.  My starter prawns were large and juicy .  The steak and ale pie was all I had hoped it would be, light, succulent and tasty.   Always the sign of a good meal, no room for pud.  You will see from the menu below that my tiger prawns came with lashings of garlic butter, some of which in wrestling with the monsters splashed onto my clothing.  I rest my case!

Our Lunch
  • Tiger Prawns, pan fried in lashings of garlic butter, with malted sourdough bread  BQ
  • Smoked Paprika and Maple Skewers, marinated and roasted tempeh, cherry tomato & red pepper skewers with rocket salad, vegan garlic mayo  MW
  • Steak & Tanglefoot Pie – braised British steak in rich velvety gravy made with Tanglefoot beer, with creamy mash, braised cabbage, leeks and bacon  BQ
  • Gilthead Bream Fillet on smoky white bean and bacon cassoulet with wilted kale  MW
  • Red Rioja, Artesa, Organic – Spain  BQ
  • White Rioja, El Coto Blanco – Spain  MW


Stratfield Saye – St. Mary the Virgin

We have to thank Malcolm and Judy Phillips for helping to arrange this most enjoyable visit to Stratfield Saye.  Although we had never met, during correspondence with Malcolm on a quite different matter, I learned that both he and his wife were guides at Stratfield Saye House, the impressive home of the Dukes of Wellington.  As it happened BQ and I had already identified the Georgian church of St Mary’s on the estate for a possible future Dine and Divine entry and so we arranged to visit both the house and church on the same day.  Malcolm kindly offered to be our guide around the house and we, in turn, invited both him and Judy to join us for our usual apres-church lunch.

Stratfield Saye is situated in the northeast corner of Hampshire close to the border with Berkshire and is about as far as we are likely to travel for one of our visits. The journey there was uneventful and, not unlike our last visit, consisted of 45 minutes of frenetic motorway followed by 15 minutes of peaceful country lanes.  We hadn’t been in the church long before Malcolm and Judy arrived with the news that we should be at Stratfield Saye House just before noon for the tour.  That gave us ample time to explore what is essentially quite a small church.

Church 3a

The first reference to a church at Stratfield Saye can be found in the 11th century Domesday Book and, since that time just four families have held the estate.  All have been closely connected to the church.  The first family was the de Sayes who gave their name to the village.  Then came the Darbridgecourts.  Nicholas Darbridgecourt was one of the first Knights of the Garter under Edward III and gained Stratfield Saye by marrying the family heiress in 1364.  Another member of the family, Eustace, had earlier gained notoriety by eloping with a nun in 1320 resulting in them both being required to undergo public penance.  Quite what that involved isn’t recorded, but it would be interesting to know.

Next came the Pitt family who acquired the property by purchase at the beginning of the  18th century and it remained as the principal family residence for the next 200 years. The medieval church was demolished and the present church was commissioned by George Pitt and was completed in 1758.  In 1776 Pitt was elevated to the peerage and became Lord Rivers.  Both he and his son, the second Lord Rivers, are buried in the vault of the church.

In 1817 the Parliamentary Commissioners presented the estate to Field Marshall Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington in grateful recognition of his victory in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.  A condition of the tenure, which surprisingly continues to the present day, is that a French banner must be presented to the sovereign at Windsor Castle annually on Waterloo day by the current Duke of Wellington (now the 9th).

The church is of an unusual design, built in red brick in the form of a Greek Cross with an octagonal central tower surmounted by a copper dome.  Unlike BQ, I thought the design quite pleasing in its symmetry, the interior bright and cheery although dominated by the over-powering family monuments.

The building was not admired at the time of its construction and later positively vilified by the Victorians.  However, since then there has been some significant alterations that may have made the proportions appear to be more harmonious.  Looking at the photo taken during our visit, then comparing it with the adjacent 1906 image, it is obvious that there was once a section of the building that now no longer exists. 

The church from the East


The interior facing south.  The numerous monuments which cover most of the available wall space are memorials to the Pitts and the Wellingtons.    The box pews are typically Georgian.  


The simple altar is set into a recess.  The triple window above is filled with glass in memory to the 3rd Duke of Wellington.  


This grandiose alabaster monument in the south transept is to Sir William Pitt and his wife Edith set up by their eldest son Edward Pitt.  The husband died in 1636 and the wife in 1633, but it was 1640 before the entire tomb was completed. Presumably it had to be moved from the earlier church when St Mary’s was built.

The first photo shows two memorials, one to the builder of the church, George Pitt (Lord Rivers) and the other to the 5th Duke of Wellington who died in 1941.  The second photo is of the monument to the second Duke of Wellington.


A view of the nave.  Above the entrance is the Manorial Pew which at one time was removed, then restored in 1965 by the 7th Duke on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.  At the same time the barrel organ donated by the Great Duke in 1835 was restored to its original positionFont

The handsome marble font was copied from a work by Sir Christopher Wren and was presented by the people of the parish in thanksgiving for the reign of Queen Victoria.

Stratfield Saye House


I found the tour of Stratfield Saye House quite fascinating.  Malcolm and Judy took it in turns to give an absorbing commentary which gave a real insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the great Duke of Wellington.  He and his wife Kitty lived here in an unhappy marriage at opposite ends of the building.  There are 26 paintings of his famous horse Copenhagen, yet just the one of Kitty.  We toured the many rooms, some extremely opulent and others almost domestic reminding us that this is still the home of the current Duke.  

Funeral carriage

Only a very few British subjects have ever been honoured by being given a State Funeral, (Nelson and Churchill are others), but the Duke of Wellington’s in 1852 was on an epic scale epitomised by this 18 ton funeral carriage which is still kept in the stables.  The lower part is constructed from the metal of guns captured at Waterloo.  The ‘Triumphal Car’ as it was known was drawn by 12 black draught horses, 3 a-breast. 

After his death, Irish and English newspapers disputed whether Wellington had been born an Irishman or an Englishman.  Wellington had in fact been born in Ireland but never thought of himself as Irish and claimed, perhaps less than tactfully  “because a man is born in a stable it does not make him a horse”.


Longbridge Mill Restaurant

There has been a water mill on this site since 1316 and part of the building is still being used as a working flour mill with the flour being sold in the pub.  However, the building is now mainly a large busy restaurant.

Together with Malcolm and Judy, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch expertly served by the charming Rachel who was working as a waitress between completing a university degree and starting her first teaching job.  The food was quite acceptable although the menu descriptions were rather more pretentious than the food justified, but enjoyable nonetheless. The general ambience of the restaurant was warm, welcoming and relaxed.




BQ’s Impressions

Approaching the church through the lychgate, the press of trees revealed a glimpse of a brick structure with a nondescript white painted porch which reminded me of a quiet tube station on the Metropolitan line.   This initial response was further reinforced as a dome came into view which would obviously encompass the ticket hall.  What an amazing design for a structure built so many years ago after they had demolished the ancient medieval church which probably, to my eyes, would have been much more appealing.
However I am pleased to report that I am not the only one who feels this way as it came in for much criticism both at the time it was built, and later by many Victorians.  Indeed one critic described it as ‘a monster of ecclesiastical ugliness’.  All this would have been acceptable if the interior had glowed with warmth and devotion, alas this was not to be.  The whole purpose of this structure seemed to be a mausoleum with memorials to the rich families who had occupied the adjoining house and estate.  If you are into ‘doffing your cap to the gentry”  this is the church for you.
However, in the porch (where else), I came across a copy of a touching tribute to John Baylis ‘the jester’ who died in 1775.  The actual inscription is carved onto his headstone in the graveyard which was erected by the ‘Servants Hall’
Jester's tribute a
One of the great joys of Stratfield Saye is the approach through perfect parkland laid out by Capability Brown.  On the day we were there this was further enhanced by the sight of three red kites drifting overhead..
The first Duke of Wellington, having been given the house by a grateful nation, did not, thank goodness, replace it with the vast mansion that he was offered.  The quiet modesty of the original residence is attractive.  Perhaps this is what he needed after spending time in parliament and living in Apsley House in the centre of the thriving metropolis of London. During his two terms as Prime Minister he never shrunk from making bold decisions as, for example, he was responsible for the Catholic emancipation legislation which he pushed through against strong opposition. Indeed he fought a duel over it (evidently it was one of those contests where both assailants deliberately missed but honour was satisfied ).  In contrast he did oppose Jewish emancipation and the Reform Act, the latter making him very unpopular with the mob, who stoned his London residence.

Then off to the mill with Malcom and Judy where the company and banter was so good I am at a loss to remember what I ate, always a sign of good company.
But when the conversation extended to overseas travel, I yet again adopted my role as a humble scribe as discussion was mainly devoted to the exotic destinations that these three intrepid travellers had visited.
My own interjection about my forthcoming break in Kent evinced a short silence.  Yet again I knew my place!

Our Lunch

  • Oven baked button & Portobello mushrooms in a garlic and mature cheddar sauce, served with rustic bread  BQ
  • Chargrilled Lamb Koftas served with tzatziki and dressed slaw  MW
  • Caeser Salad, dressed cos lettuce with bacon lardons, anchovies and Gran Moravia cheese with stone baked garlic flatbread  BQ
  • Chicken and mushroom pie in a chardonnay, woodland mushrooms & leek sauce topped with puff pastry, served with spring onion mash and seasonal vegetables  MW
  • Classic vanilla crème brûlée with home baked butter biscuits  BQ  MW
  • Pallone Pinot Grigio (Italian)   BQ  MW




Upton Grey – St. Mary’s Church

Upton Grey is situated in the north east corner of Hampshire, not far from Basingstoke. The journey there was lengthy compared to the distance travelled to previous churches, but it was fast, mostly along the M3 motorway.    On the way we passed through the notorious chalk cutting at Twyford Down, the scene of running battles between protesters and workmen when the road was constructed in 1992.  Over the years the deep walls of the cutting have gradually changed from dazzling white to shades of green as the memories of that bitter confrontation fade.  We slipped off the motorway one exit early on noticing brake lights being hurriedly applied, a sure sign of trouble ahead. The contrast was immediate, busy motorway to quiet traffic free lanes so overgrown that they were little more than the width of the car.  Soon we arrived at Upton Grey, one of the prettiest villages in Hampshire.  We stepped out into the fierce heat of yet another day in this seemingly endless summer and quickly entered the cool interior of St. Mary’s Church.



St Mary’s Church dates from Saxon times and is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. However the first stone structure wasn’t built until the early 12th century and since then the building has been altered on numerous occasions.  A south aisle was built in the 13th century but fell, or was pulled down in the 16th century.  The chancel was rebuilt in the 13th century and the nave shortened in the 15th century.  The result is a church that today, seems to be a very odd shape with an unusually narrow chancel attached at a slight angle to a wide combined nave and north aisle.

Upton Grey Church Plan

Upton Grey Church Choir

The chancel, strangely narrow with a high roof but none-the-less is very pleasing

Upton Grey church chancel
The deeply recessed lancet windows above the main altar are typically early English, although the glass is 19th century.

Upton Grey Church north transept

The North Aisle with its own altar.  The 15th century font is of Caen stone and weirdly, carved on it’s north side, is a monkey with it’s tongue out.  If any of our readers know the significance of this please let us know. 

Upton Grey Church Monuments

The walls of the nave and north aisle are adorned with memorials to the local great and good.

Upton Grey Church plaque

This 18th century memorial is interesting in that it shows the attitudes towards the importance of devotion to duty that were current at the time.  One cannot imagine  a present day widowed husband praising his departed wife for her perseverance in performing her conjugal duty under the discouragement of sorrow, sickness and pain. However, after a little research, it becomes more understandable.  Apparently, in those days conjugal duty was not a duty to her husband, but to God.

Upton Grey Church Writing

This early 14th century inscription on the east wall of the nave has only recently been deciphered. The lettering is English and is believed to be the rather enigmatic warning ‘For God’s love beware by me’.  It is thought that a modern translation might be ‘I was once as you are; take warning of how I have become’.  Dead, presumably.

One of three consecration crosses, dating from around 1100, etched into the west wall of the nave and revealed during the 1880  restoration.
Upton Grey Church porch
The quaint 17th century oak framed porch.

The Manor House Garden

Our fortunate meeting with Simon de Zoete during our last Dine and Divine outing led to the opportunity of visiting not only his wonderful garden but now another garden, equally attractive and with a fascinating history.  Following our visit to Colemore , Simon kindly gave us an introduction to Rosamund Wallinger, a remarkable lady who has restored her garden at The Manor House in Upton Grey back to the original design created by Gertrude Jekyll over 100 years ago.  Despite the recent arrival of a party of mostly American ladies, Rosamund found time to warmly welcome us and, with the help of the display of photos and plans in the Garden room, described the re-birth of her unique garden.

It was in 1908 that the renowned garden designer, Gertrude Jeykyll, was asked to design the garden of the then owner of Upton Grey Manor, Charles Holmes, an established figure in the Arts and Crafts movement.  Gertrude’s formal design included many of her hallmarks, dry stone walls, a sunken garden with geometrically shaped beds plus flanking borders and lawns on separate levels.  Over the years the garden became sadly neglected and by 1984, when Rosamund and her husband moved in, it had become a jungle of weeds and brambles, but although some of the Purbeck stone walls had collapsed, no constructive damage had been done.

upton grey before

As soon as copies of Gertrude’s original plans for the garden were found (6,000 miles away in California) Rosamund set about accurately restoring the garden back to its original design. The result is a triumph, featured in several TV programmes and given a variety of awards.   BQ and I lingered for as long as time allowed, and like many before us, were  hugely impressed.  Others interested should consult:- gertrudejekyllgarden.co.uk/


Upton Grey Manor Garden 3


The Hoddington Arms

Saved from falling into disrepair by four local businessmen, the Hoddington Arms is a true community pub, a real hub of village life.  Our lunch was excellent and, to BQ’s approval, we had ‘proper napkins’.


Hoddington Arms



BQ’s Impressions

Now for the braces.
Since my last two visits on Dine and Divine, my friends in the Waterloo Arms are becoming so fed up with my constant enthusiasm for gardens they have renamed me Monty Don.
As someone who in the past has never watched Gardeners World or listened to Gardeners Question Time on the radio my new name was a mystery.  However my research showed that I was in urgent need of some well used clothing but most of all large dark braces, and a docile and loving dog.
My conversion to the joy of gardens was completed by this visit to the wonderful historic Upton Grey Manor House, whose restoration of the garden, based on the original plans prepared by Gertrude Jekyll, was as exquisite as any conversion of a medieval church.
Meeting the incredible Rosamund Wallinger was a real pleasure, and my impression was of an indefatigable character full of charm and energy.
After a lengthy inspection of the gardens whilst MW flew his drone, fortunately to the approval of all present, I found a shady corner and although I could manage the braces the dog was a step too far.
Thence a short step to the church which was close by and, yet again, entered into a wonderfully cool atmosphere on this hottest of days.  The first impression is one of strangeness at the rather weird conjunction of a narrow small original nave connected to a large 17th century extension whose width destroyed all symmetry of the whole.
The Norman chancel arch leading to the altar in the narrow part of the church has a definite feel of the Anglo Saxon, although it dates from the 12th century and it would not surprise me if it did not cover the original, probably wooden, church.  The sound in this area is dominated by the ticking of the large clock on the tower and the bottom of the pendulum can be seen at the top of the stairs.  I found the almost dual personality of the church somewhat disturbing and retreated to the main altar stalls to collect my thoughts.

Nowadays I am grateful for the pews to rest and contemplate on but, before the reformation, everyone stood although there would probably be a shelf around the church to rest on.  With the emphasis of services changing to the ‘word’ post reformation, Protestant clergy became fired up into giving long sermons, even the one at that recent royal wedding would have been regarded as a mere trifle.  In some churches, pews were sold to members of the congregation and became their personal property registered by ‘pew deeds’.  It is worth remembering that most of this activity took place when attendance at church was legally compulsory, so the internal layout would resemble a graphic plan of the hierarchy of the community.
Then on to the  Hoddington Arms for lunch and, joy of joys, a laundered white full size napkin and an excellent meal, my soufflé fully deserving the four stars on its own.
However the trip had been dominated by yet another beautiful garden.

Our Lunch 

  • Warm Salad of Tunworth Cheese, Crispy breaded Tunworth, baby gem lettuce, spiced apple chutney, celery, toasted walnuts and pickled apple  BQ
  • Crisp goujons of Cornish plaice, warm sauce tartare, peas, pea shoots and mint oil  MW
  •  Twice baked Yellison Goats cheese soufflé, pea, mint and semi dried tomato salad  BQ
  • Slow roast belly of Wiltshire pork, English asparagus, sauté and fondant potato  MW
  • Vin de la Maison – Sauvignon Blanc  BQ
  • Vin de la Maison – Viognier  MW


Colemore – Church of St. Peter ad Vincula

Some of our more interesting Dine and Divine visits are days when, for one reason or another, things didn’t quite work out as originally planned, and this was the case on the day we finished up at St Peter ad Vincula Church, not far from Petersfield.  My annual car service was due, so we took advantage of the provided courtesy car to travel to our day’s destination, although this rather restricted us to an area somewhere between Fareham and Petersfield.  Neither of our first two choices, The Royal Garrison Church in Portsmouth nor St. Nicholas Church in Wickham were open to the public at the time, and it was quite by chance that we came across St. Peters in one of our more obscure reference books, and what a gem it turned out to be.


This remote and quite charming church has had a stormy history since it was built to a cruciform plan in the twelfth century.  Over the years it has been declared ‘ruinous’ and then repaired on several occasions and, if it were not for the Redundant Churches Fund, it would be in a poor state today.  Despite all of these episodes of repairs and rebuilding it has somehow retained the integrity of the original Norman Church even though in 1670, during one of the more drastic rescues the layout changed when the south transept was pulled down.

Colemore Church

My appreciation of English country churches came late in life despite, or perhaps because, during my early years I was expected to sing in the local church choir twice each Sunday when I could think of better things to do with my weekends.   However at the beginning of last year when BQ and I began this internet diary I quickly realised just how special  yet undervalued these buildings are.  Each one is a remarkable survivor, often the only unchanged or little changed building in a community where all else has altered out of all recognition. Mostly they are left unlocked with little or no security yet it is only seldom that we see another visitor.  Each church is unique, but one or two seem to have a special aura of timelessness.   St. Huberts Church at Idsworth, marooned in a field, with the village that once surrounded it long since gone under the plough, comes to mind.   And now, this little church had this same atmosphere, difficult to explain why, but the fact that it still depends on candlelight for illumination might be a factor. Simple but beautiful.

Colemore Church Nave

Between the nave and chancel is this charming 16th-century rood screen, originally intended to protect the mystery of the communion from the congregation.

A squint that connects the north transept to the chancel, BQ’s explanation below

Nave looking to the west
The nave, looking towards the west

The bells were originally hanging in the tower, but now are suspended from an iron beam.  The smaller one is dated 1380 and still bears the Wokingham Foundry mark of a lion’s face and a groat.  The larger bell was cast in 1627 at the Reading Foundry.

The ladder is dated 1694 and is believed to have been constructed by a Richard Weene, a villager  who died in 1704.  It is still in use and one can’t help wondering just how many feet have climbed the ladder during the past 300 years.

The 12th century Purbeck marble font is the oldest object within the church.  Intriguingly it is carved with different designs on all four faces, and it is thought possible that the craftsman was practising his skill prior to applying for work at Winchester Cathedral which was under construction at the time. The mounting and cover are Victorian.
The Cookson Memorial.  James Cookson was rector of the church for 59 years and, at the time of his death in 1835 at the age of 83, he was also the oldest magistrate in Hampshire.  He had the misfortune to lose four of his children and his young wife within the space of 20 years


The first record of Colemore was in the Domesday book when, in 1086, the local Lord was the wonderfully named ‘Humphrey the Chamberlain’.  At that time Colemore was a small settlement of just ten households and, from what I could see, it has scarcely grown during the past millennium.  Dominant in this small hamlet is the late 18th century Colemore House, the former rectory, which is surrounded by the most wonderful gardens which, we discovered, have been created during the past 40 years by the present owners, an impressive achievement indeed.  We not only visited the gardens but had the good fortune of enjoying beer and sandwiches on the cool veranda overlooking the lawns and borders – a welcome alternative to the anticipated pub lunch on an oppressively hot day. 

Serendipity played no small part in this arrangement as while photographing the church from above, I noticed someone approaching from the adjacent Colemore house, no doubt troubled by the noise of the drone in such peaceful surroundings. It transpired that it was Simon de Zoete of the de Zoete banking and broking dynasty. We struck up a conversation and came to an arrangement whereby once we had finished our church visit we would use the drone to photograph his house and gardens in exchange for some much needed refreshment.

Simon de Zoete


The wonderful Colemore House gardens

BQ’s Impressions

Cool, Real Cool

Stepping from the air conditioned car and struggling up the uneven grass path to the church I became immediately aware of the blinding heat, and fell relieved into the delightful cool atmosphere of this ancient stone church.  The simplicity of the interior felt like a refreshing iced sorbet after the rich main course we had indulged in at our last trip to Romsey Abbey.  At times simplicity can be awesome and this very modest church had it in spades.

Settling down in a box pew for quiet prayer and contemplation whilst MW sent his drone into orbit, I became aware of voices outside, the tone changing from questioning to conversational in a short time.  Had the silver tongued MW yet again stilled the concerns of a neighbour unsettled by an alien object flying above – a confrontation I usually avoid.  And so it seemed when he appeared with the news that when we had finished the interior we had been invited to have a cool beer with the neighbour.

Not for the first time we discovered that St Peters is a redundant church, loved and looked after by The Churches Conservation Trust, who I would earnestly advise our readers to support and even contribute to.  Named St Peter ad Vincula (St Peter in chains) it is a reminder of the story when an Angel appeared to the Saint in a prison cell and freed him.  It is the same name as the chapel in the Tower of London and I wonder whether Anne Boleyn waited for her Angel to appear.   It was first recorded in the Domesday Book, but it is possible that its origin could be earlier although no clues remain in the present mainly 12th century structure.  Originally a cruciform church, the south transept being demolished, the most unusual feature is surprisingly a hole in the wall charmingly called a squint.  This is a new term for me and evidently it was so that the priest celebrating mass in the transept could keep time with his colleague at the main altar.  The mind boggles at the thought of two priests concelebrating mass in such a small church.

Thence into the secret garden where I sat entranced at its beauty whilst everyone else was captivated by the drone.  MW is quite right when he describes me as a Luddite.  Having then talked his way into our hosts providing a light lunch he had the temerity to describe me as a Corbynista to our charming host.  From then on I adopted my role as a humble scribe employed to record the conversation between two captains of industry.  Then, to add insult to injury, a bystander thought MW was my son.  At last I knew my place!



Romsey – Romsey Abbey

Romsey Abbey2

In contrast to the frustrations and disappointments during our last church visit, our day in Romsey couldn’t have gone better.  The weather was warm and sunny, the roads were quiet and within 30 minutes we were negotiating Romsey’s convoluted road system to arrive at Romsey Abbey.  Parking might well have been a problem but BQ’s disability badge yet again came to our aid and enabled us to park conveniently within the Abbey precincts. 

As it was still relatively early in the day, the east frontage of the Abbey was still bathed in sunlight so I quickly deployed the drone to capture a clear view of the most impressive elevation of the Abbey.  From above, the building appears to be very nearly symmetrical if somewhat squat.  It’s not until viewed from the side that the true  scale of the building becomes apparent. It really is quite vast considering that Romsey is a small town.

I caught up with BQ who was in quiet contemplation in St Anne’s Chapel and after a few minutes exploration it was obvious that our modest internet diary couldn’t begin to do justice to this iconic building. The best we could do was to record and comment on things that particularly caught our eyes.


For 650 years, until the time of the dissolution, Romsey Abbey was a centre for female worship and education. It was founded by King Alfred’s son Edward as a nunnery in 907, but the early years were very unsettled due to the persistant attacks on Christian buildings by the pagan Vikings.  Eventually the building had to be rebuilt following its almost total destruction by Sweyn Forkbeard and his soldiers in 994. The nuns, apparently warned by divine intervention, were able to flee to the Nunnaminster in Winchester.

In the 12th century, following William the Conqueror’s invasion in 1066, the Abbey was again rebuilt, but this time in the Norman style that we see today.  The building now housed not only the convent which occupied the southern section of the building, but also the town’s parish church which was situated in the northern side.  Life for the nuns eventually settled down and the convent flourished until the catastrophe of the Black Death which swept through England in the mid 14th century. The convent was particularly badly affected and it’s numbers went into a decline which continued, not only in quantity but in quality. While nuns of the Saxon and early Norman period generally had a genuine vocation, by the Middle Ages convents had become a convenient place to dispose of inconvenient women. Here, families could leave daughters who were unlikely to attract husbands due to either a lack of looks or a lack of a dowry, husbands could confine an unfaithful or unwanted wife and many widows simply had nowhere else to go.

The building was saved from demolition during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, not only because of its size, but also because the building provided the only place of worship for the residents of Romsey who were permitted to purchase the building for £100.  However, as decreed by Henry VIII, the convent was ‘dissolved’.  Little is known of the fate of the remaining nuns apart from the case of  a Jane Wadham who married the Abbey Chaplain claiming that she had been forced into the convent and did not feel bound by her vows.


The first impression on entering the cathedral-like interior of the Abbey is one of surprise at just how spacious it is and it is hardly surprising that, in the past, some of the space has been used for purposes other than as a parish church.  In the early part of the 18th century a Free School and a Grammar School were established within the building and several old prints exist showing children playing among the graves. During the 19th century some of the town’s fire-fighting equipment was stored in what is now the choir vestry and, when a fire was reported, the Abbey bells were rung to alert the firemen.

The Norman pillars are of interest, particularly two where the capitals are historiated, that is engraved with images that tell a tale. In most churches capitals depict Bible stories, but here, they show historical events.  The one shown above depicts the aftermath of a bloody battle, with decapitated heads, carrion birds snatching up body parts, and a riderless horse fleeing the scene. In the centre stand two kings with drawn swords, but angels stand behind each king, grasping the weapons as if to prevent further bloodshed. The most common theory is that the scene depicts the 878 Battle of Edington.
Retro Choir
The retro-choir – the area behind the main altar

South AisleSt. Anne’s Chapel;  looking very fresh and bright and for good reason, as it has only recently been ‘re-ordered’.  One never imagines that sections of a church need periodic refurbishment, although admittedly not that frequently, as the last time the Chapel was fitted out was in 1855 under the direction of the then Vicar’s wife.    During the recent work much of the timber has been expertly and sensitively replaced including the altar.  But, what is most impressive, is the way that modern LED lighting has been used to illuminate the Abbey’s most precious relic, the 1,050 year old Saxon rood.

The Saxon Roods

A rood, basically a cross or crucifix, is most commonly seen above the entrance to the chancel in medieval churches.  Early Saxon roods are extremely rare yet Romsey has not one but two of these treasures.

Saxon Rood
On the outside wall of the South Transept is the famous Romsey Rood, a Saxon relief of Christ, his welcoming arms spread to greet us. Above is the hand of God appearing from a cloud. Alongside is a small recess for candles and above a triangular vent to disperse the smoke.
Saxon Rood 2
 The exceptional and beautiful Saxon low relief carving on a block of limestone dating from the 10th century depicting the Crucifixion, now exquisitely displayed in the Chapel of Saint Anne, a place for silent prayer where the light burns for the Blessed Sacrament


Romsey Abbey has such a wealth of impressive memorials and it is difficult to choose which ones to feature, but three seemed to us to be particularly notable, one flamboyant, one famous and the other poignant.

St Barbe Monument 2
The impressive 17th century Memorial in the south transept is to John and Grissell St Barbe who died within hours of each other of  ‘sweating sickness’ in 1658.  Their ancestors originally came over with the invading Normans and fought at the battle of Hastings
John and Grissell’s four sons – only one survived to adulthood.
Mountbatten Plaque
Many visitors come to Romsey Abbey in search of the simple black memorial to Earl Mountbatten who was assassinated by a terrorist bomb in 1979.  Earl Mountbatten lived nearby at Broadlands, the estate, coincidently, that had also been the home of the St Barbe family mentioned above.
It is hard not to be moved by this beautiful memorial to Alice Taylor who died of Scarlet Fever in 1843 at the age of two.  Her father, who was a doctor, was also a sculptor and designed this tomb inscribed with the words ‘Is it well with the child?  It is well’ {II Kings 4;26)

The St. Lawrence Chapel Rerodos

This c1525 century painting was discovered in 1813, when the arches behind the high altar which had been sealed up for centuries, were opened up.  The panel had been painted over with the Ten Commandments and when these were removed, the reredos was revealed.  It depicts the Resurrection of Christ surrounded by saints together with a figure in the left hand corner that is reputed to be the last Abbess of the convent.

The Head of Plaited Hair


Until 1853 burials within the church building were permitted, and a considerable number of people lie under the Abbey floor.  In 1839 John Major, the sexton at the time, discovered an ancient lead coffin five feet below the floor level and, on removing the lid, found ‘a beautiful head of hair, with a tail plaited, evidently that of a young female lying on a block of oak. The hair was in perfect form and appeared as though the skull had only been recently removed from it.’   There was no inscription of any kind.   The sexton showed it to the vicar who, obviously uninterested, threw it into his coal hole and had the coffin sold for old lead.  Mr Major however rescued the hair, which had been considerably damaged in its treatment, and had it enclosed in a glass case where it can still be seen.

In 2016 the team at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator unit studied the hair and concluded that there was an almost 70% probability that the person had died between 965 and 1045 AD. They also concluded she had enjoyed a diet rich in fish, although quite how I cannot imagine.

The Corbel Heads


There is a fascinating collection of corbels carved around the outside of the building, some of mythical beings and some depicting bestiaries – strange creatures that, in medieval times, were believed to inhabit far off lands. Shown above left is a Blemmyae, a headless human figure with its eyes, nose and mouth on its chest.  On the right, next to the cat-like creature, is a strange looking humanoid playing a rebec.  Several of the corbels seem to resemble cats and it has been suggested that this may be because they were popular pets with the nuns.

Brians and Liz

Our visit was made so much more enjoyable as a result of meeting Liz and Brian who are based at the Abbey and whose knowledge of the building was comprehensive.  We are indeed grateful for their time in sharing their knowledge with us.  For anyone who has an interest in Romsey Abbey I can thoroughly recommend Liz Hallett’s various books and booklets on the subject.

La Parisienne

I enjoyed my meal at La Parisienne without reservation.  I felt that both food and service were faultless and fully deserved five stars.    BQ and I had a full and frank discussion on the level of this award, as he felt that one star must be deducted for the failure to provide proper napkins.  Frankly it matters little to me whether the serviette is of linen or any other material and we failed to agree.  However as I type up the blog – five stars it is!

Parisienne Restaurant Romsey 4

Parisienne Restaurant Romsey 3

Parisienne Restaurant Romsey 2

BQ’s Impressions

A favourite church
Over the thirty eight years that I have lived in Southampton, my frequent trips to Romsey have never been complete without a visit to the Abbey church, and the wonderful feeling of devotion that it has always aroused in me.
Although built on the scale of a cathedral, its grand demeanour has never overpowered the warm and comfortable interior and the hospitality of the welcomers.  It also does not have an entrance fee which I feel demeans a holy place.  So it was with a feeling of excitement that I was able to write on this building which has given me so much joy in the past.
Although the occupying force of the Norman invasion of 1066 now dominates what we see today, fortunately there remains Saxon artefacts that are worth a visit on their own.  The greatest of which is the wonderful Saxon Rood which can be found on the outside wall of the south transept which is not a crucifixion scene despite the spread arms. The crucifixion scene which is also a Saxon rood is reserved in a chapel and together with a coffin lid of a medieval abbess these represent some of the finest remnants of this lost period of our history.
That having been said, the Normans were wonderful builders and the interior is massively proportioned with the three decks of arcade, gallery and clerestory. The westernmost bays however are early gothic, but do not disturb the integrated rhythm of the whole.  How often I have stood in such buildings and marvelled at the artistry of all those nameless masons who crafted such beauty, but at Romsey a sprightly mason has signed his work with his name Robert.  Of course the locals have now renamed him ‘Bob the builder’.
The capitals, corbels and carvings are a fitting testament to their art as faces, battle scenes, animals and musicians all stare down on you both inside and out.  Having, over the past millennium, graduated from a nunnery, parish church, school room and even fire station the building is nothing short of adaptable.
In contrast the La Parisienne restaurant has only been on its present site for thirty years, which is also a sign of high quality and service to the town.
As with the Abbey, my visits to La Parisienne have recently been less frequent as its charms have been reserved for high days and holidays.  As usual, I was transported to Paris very quickly without the necessity of travelling on Eurostar.
MW having spent the previous week trekking in the Lofoten Islands living on a diet of dried cod and whale-meat, and having stated that he had eaten and smelt enough fish to last a lifetime, then proceeded to order a Dover Sole.
The food and service were impeccable, and I would be very happy to award five stars but for the paper napkins which is a perennial grouse of mine.
Mind you on our last trip we had immaculate white laundered napkins and poor food.  Yet again you can’t win them all.  BQ


Our Lunch 

  • Soupe aux Oignons  BQ
  • Salade de Foie de Volaille au Vinaigre de Framboise  MW
  • Entrecote Bordelaise  BQ
  • Sole de Douvre Beurre Meuniere  MW
  • Brie BQ
  • Ile Flottante MW
  • Vin de la Maison – Merlot  BQ
  • Vin de la Maison – Chenin Blanc  MW


Barton Stacey – All Saints Church

After a quick count I see that this is the 25th Hampshire Church we have visited since we began this internet diary at the beginning of 2017.  Ignoring a few minor hiccups these visits have all gone to plan and been thoroughly enjoyable.  So I suppose it was inevitable that this run of good fortune must eventually come to an end.

For a start the weather that had been forecast to develop into sunshine remained stubbornly overcast and this certainly put a bit of a dampener on the day, but most dispiriting was the dreadfully slow moving traffic. A combination of accidents and roadworks made it bad enough on the way there but the return journey was even slower, static even for lengthy periods.  In hindsight we couldn’t have picked a worse day – the Friday before the May bank holiday.  Families on their way to the South Coast combined with impatient commuters returning from London to create an ill tempered traffic jam where any show of courtesy was abandoned.  A wrongly entered destination on the sat-nav didn’t help and nor did BQ as he extolled the virtues of the old-fashioned road atlas compared with modern technology.

With relief we finally arrived in the little village of Barton Stacey and after cups of freshly brewed coffee in the village shop things seemed much better.

Barton Stacey Store
The Barton Stacey Stores which seems to be the social centre of the village is also the place where the key to the church is kept.  Fortunately I had discovered this vital piece of information in advance by contacting the very helpful Parish Clerk, Jo Gadney.


It is quite possible that All Saints Church is standing on one of the earliest sites of continuous Christian worship in England. Although the date of construction of the first church here is unknown, it must have been very early in the Saxon period as the original dedication was to St Victor, a 5th century African bishop.


The Saxon church was replaced in the 12th century by a building in Transitional style but the church we see today is the result of yet another rebuilding in the 13th century.  The tower was added in 1510 and carved decorations on some of the fragments suggest that part of the material used in its construction was from the earlier Norman church.


The interior is pleasingly proportioned although comparatively plain with few memorials.  I do like the semi box pews in the main part of the nave which look absolutely right and probably date from the 1877 restoration.  I know it has been fashionable in recent years to replace pews with free seating, but I hope the more conservative members of the congregation will resist any such change here.

Pews were removed from the north and south aisles in 1971 in order to facilitate much needed repairs.  Work was carried out by the Royal Engineers from the nearby Barton Stacey camp, All Saints being their official garrison church at the time. In addition to other improvements, the brick floor was replaced with tiles and, during the course of this work, a vault containing six 16th century coffins was discovered.  One of these coffins contained the body of a headless man – a victim of the Civil War perhaps?  The vault had been last sealed in 1740 and, before being resealed, a watertight bag was left inside containing a copy of the Hampshire Chronicle, some pre-decimal and some ‘new’ money, a copy of the parish magazine and a letter to the next person opening the vault.

The sanctuary is paved with extremely fine medieval tiles similar to those found in Winchester Cathedral.  The altar table is 17th century Flemish and bears the carved figures of Faith, Hope and Charity.
Toward thr tower
Looking to the west end of the nave and the base of the tower.  The two furthest columns are the only remnants of the 12th century building.  Apparently one of them has been the cause of recurring structural problems over the centuries as it is out of alignment due to the shifting chalk foundations.  Hard to see, but I think it could be the right hand one.
One of the few monuments in the nave and one that I find particularly sad.  Two brothers, around the same age, killed in action during the First World War within the same week. As a father, I cannot begin to imagine the degree of grief felt by their parents.


The Great Fire

gates a

In May, 1792 the following vivid account appeared in the recently established Hampshire Chronicle_

Fire at Barton Stacey

On Tuesday last, about the middle of the day, the most awful conflagration ever beheld by human eye desolated this village.  Some people being at work in Mr Moody’s smithy, a large flake of red hot iron flew out of the window and falling onto some dry litter near a cucumber bed set it instantly on fire. This communicating to an adjoining mill-house covered with thatch, the high wind blowing in a direct line with the street carried the thatch like a storm of fire swifter than a man could run till the whole village was in flames.  Volumes of liquid fire occupied the atmosphere, which taking different directions was whirled by the wind to a prodigious height; til the flames and combustible matter roaring and burning with the most tremendous noise fell again in showers of fiery hail until everything covered in thatch was entirely consumed. 

Happening in the middle of the day only one life was lost; and that through obstinacy.  Farmer Friend, at the advanced age of sixty, persisted in going upstairs after his money.  He was purported to have 400 guineas in a coffer which he said he was determined to have or perish in the attempt which was unhappily his fate.  The Dean and Chapter of Winchester have generously sent 20s and a quantity of bread for the relief of the unfortunate sufferers who were obliged to take shelter in the church.

The events of 7th May, 1792 are remembered in the simple wording carved into the church gates;   

 For God is our refuge   The Great Fire 1792

Barton Stacey Today


The Swan Inn

(Update March ‘19;  I have recently heard from a Barton Stacey resident that since writing the following unfavourable review of our lunch at the Swan Inn some 10 months ago there has been a change of management and the meals there are now quite excellent.  My correspondent suggests that when we are next in the area we should give the Swan Inn another visit and that we will certainly do.)

Swan Inn Barton Stacey

It is with heavy hearts that we can only award one star for our meal at the nearby Swan Inn.  Heavy hearts because the young ladies behind the bar and serving the meals could not have been more charming and efficient,  the general atmosphere was welcoming and the furnishings attractive.  But the food was summed up in one short remark by BQ as we left the building ‘My God that meal was grim’.  In fairness I did enjoy my curried parsnip soup, but everything from the deep fat fryer had emerged with an unpleasant flavour of greasiness and my omelette when sliced open revealed a translucent uncooked interior with floating lumps of tough fatty ham.

I am afraid that neither of us could escape our polite English upbringing as, when asked if we had enjoyed our meal, answered ‘Yes, very nice, thank you’.  I am sure it would be fairer to be more like our American cousins and respond with honesty.

Brian Eating

BQ’s Impressions

Being a Southampton resident whose regular journeys are mainly coastal and New Forest, I have in the course of the last year discovered an unknown and unexplored area called Hampshire. Between the Meon Valley to the east and the Hampshire Downs to the west there is a real wealth of undeveloped and beautiful countryside with quiet roads connecting ancient villages with a startling selection of small mainly pre-gothic churches.

In fact we have not come across a Gothic church in all the 25 we have visited, which usually means the absence of sheep. For during the rich days of the wool trade every wealthy landowner felt obliged to outdo his neighbour in sheer magnificence and the country profited from a proliferation of ‘Wool Churches’.

In this case All Saints Church in Barton Stacey ticked all the right boxes and fitted seamlessly into the mould of Hampshire village churches.  Saxon originally, indeed one report thinks it could be the oldest place of Christian worship in the country, then altered by the Normans but the majority of what is visible today is Early English from the thirteenth century.

When we finally found our destination after driving along small lanes lined with lace-like cow parsley, the layout of the village could not have been more convenient for car park, village store, public house and church were all within a few yards.

Evidently, in the 10th century the church was dedicated to a Saint Victor of which there are nine listed, all before the fifth century, but I presume it is Pope Victor I who came from Africa and legend had it that he was the first black Pope.

The interior of the church has retained its pews in the centre of the nave and, yet again, when sitting, one realises that the original backsides must have been very narrow.

There is a refreshing lack of memorials inside and the whole church exudes a straightforward and refreshing simplicity which assists prayer.

Unfortunately I must agree with MW about the Swan Hotel, my starter of Welsh rarebit was a dark grey in colour. It made me wonder whether I had misread the menu and it was indeed rabbit.  However this was as nought compared to the whitebait and chips which was so plentiful I could not see the salad which was mostly hiding underneath submerged in fat.

However in mitigation the beer was well kept and in good condition.

My one star however is reserved for the immaculately laundered white napkins.

You can’t win them all!

Our Lunch 

  • Welsh Rarebit  BQ
  • Curried parsnip soup  MW
  • Whitebait with chips and salad BQ
  • Cheese and ham omelette with chips and salad  MW
  • Saxon Gold ale  BQ
  • Razorback best bitter  MW



Fordingbridge – St Mary the Virgin

BQ is a bit of a Luddite when it comes to modern technology.  He has steadfastly resisted using a mobile phone but, as he correctly points out, we all coped perfectly well before their invention.  However, an inability to communicate has led to some tricky misunderstandings in the past where we have agreed to meet at a point that wasn’t sufficiently exact and so, on our visit to Fordingbridge Church, it was arranged that we should make contact in the car park of Bramshaw Golf Club; a place we well remember from our younger days when we used to battle for supremacy on the greens rather than visit historic churches.

Travelling via Bramshaw instead of the busy A31 had the added bonus of driving along the quiet roads of the New Forest which looked quite stunning in the bright sunshine.  The numerous feral ponies with their newborn foals strolling along the lanes made for slow going, but we were in no hurry.


The Norman Church of St Mary the Virgin, as with so many others we have visited, replaced an earlier Saxon building about which little is known other than it was recorded in the Doomsday Book.  In the above photo the left hand section of the building, which accommodates the chancel and the main part of the nave, is the earliest, dating from 1160.  The more ornate North Chapel is to the right and was completed in the late 13th century.  The splendid tower was added in the 14th century and is unusual in that it was not built external to the body of the church, but was set on huge piers within a bay of the north aisle.

Fordingbidge Church

A better view of the changing building styles from the 12th to the 13th century.  To the left, the chancel and nave was constructed in ironstone and flint during the reign of Henry II, and on the right, when his grandson Henry III was on the throne, is the distinctly Gothic and rather more pleasing north chapel.

Gravestone Path

The pathway to the north porch is of ancient gravestones, a few still legible but the majority worn smooth by the feet of generations of parishioners.

Nave flowers

In 2010 the contentious decision was made to replace the pews with chairs to enable worship ‘ in the ’round’.  This arrangement also helps with the finances of the church by facilitating a regular and well attended programme of entertainment and concerts.

The 14th century Purbeck marble font is considerably weathered as a result of having lain in the churchyard for a century or more before being restored to the church in 1903.  But for how long and why was it abandoned in the churchyard?  Could it be a victim of the Puritan’s zeal.  In which case there must have been over 300 years of weathering!

lady chapel with bq

BQ sits in quiet contemplation in the beautiful north chapel, the spring sunshine flooding in through the east window.  The chapel originally belonged to the Knights Templar, but now it is the Hospital of St Cross (which featured in one of our recent entries)  that has rights over it.

choir stalls

The choir stalls and in the background, the high altar. The wooden carved reredos is 20th century and sadly obscures much of the east window.


For the first time we have come across an aumbry which is basically a cupboard where consecrated bread and wine are kept for distribution to those who are unable to attend church. The strange rather mystical decorations must have some significance – if any of our readers know what it is please do let us know.

Fordingbrfidge Church Choir
These windows on the south side of the chancel behind the choir stalls are the earliest in the church

Brass Plaque

A 16th-century brass monument to the Bulkley family is situated on the left of the chancel arch. It shows a man and his wife kneeling at prayer in typical Elizabethan style, with their three sons and five daughters looking on. Underneath is the date 1568 and the epitaph:

Here under lyeth buryed ye bodyes of Wiftm Bulkeley Esquier and Jane his wiffe daughter of Baron luke of ye Quenes highnes exchequer who had between them iii sons Charles, Withn whose bodies lyeth here buried & John, and v daughters. An, Jane, Judyth, Susan & Cilcelei, whom Jesus Christ have mercy and grant them eternal joy.


This carving of an ox head, set into the wall above the door to the choir vestry, is the only surviving fragment from the earlier church that was built on this site.

flower girls

The flower maidens who attended Miss Boy’s wedding in 1907, no doubt recruited from the families of the parishioners as Miss Boy’s father happened to be the vicar of the church at the time


fordingbridge river

Attractively situated on the River Avon within the New Forest National Park, Fordingbridge has in recent years become less of a market town and more of a tourist centre.  The river in the time of the Roman occupation was navigable down to the sea and evidence of their presence here can still be seen in the names of some of the buildings

High street

Rockbourne Roman Villa

After lunch BQ and I visited the nearby Roman villa and adjacent museum, apparently not a tourist magnet as we were the only two visitors at the time.  In truth, there is not a great deal to see as most of the excavations have been filled in to prevent deterioration.

Its discovery is interesting.  In June 1942 a local farmer was digging out a ferret at the site of a well known rabbit warren when he came upon a quantity of oyster shells and tiles.  News of the discovery reached a local expert and collector of antiquities who obtained permission for a trial dig and soon a decorative mosaic pavement featuring an eight pointed star was unearthed. Further excavations were delayed until after the war due to the local presence of a unit of the US Seventh Army Corps who were based there leading up to D Day.  Digging in earnest didn’t resume until the late 50’s.  Over 70 rooms have been excavated together with a separate bath complex comprising warm and cold rooms and hot and plunge pools. Perhaps the most exciting find occurred in 1967 when a pottery jar was uncovered, containing over 7000 Roman coins.  The jar was buried about AD 295, around the same time that a similar jar containing over 4000 coins was buried about 1/2 mile from the villa. A mystery remains though, although we can presume that the coins were buried to preserve them, why were they never recovered when the villa remained in continuous occupation?

Addendum;  since writing the above, I have received this interesting piece of information from one of our valued readers for which I am most grateful;-

At a U3A talk on Roman hoards we were told that jars of coins, were often buried as a gift to the gods to ensure good weather in future after a bad harvest or other such disasters.


Surma Valley Restaurant

Not only were we the only two visiting the villa, we were the only two dining at the Surma Valley Bangladesh Restaurant.  I enjoyed my meal rather more than did BQ. Our waiter, Abdul had a rather forbidding air, which finally mellowed when he and BQ found a common interest in cricket.

Surma Valley Bangladesh Restaurant


Bangladesh Restaurant and Waiter

BQ’s Impressions

Home from Home

In estate agents jargon here we had a perfect example of conversion from a draughty Norman church into a very comfortable des. res.

As a regular attendee at mass I was envious of the inclusivity that fundamental changes to the internal layout of the interior can make without destroying any of the historic charm.  Due to the narrowing of the nave and the very fine modern choir stalls the high altar seems remote from the body of the church, but it is worth remembering that when built, that was how things were.  The priest would say mass in a foreign language with his back to the congregation, and only at certain times would the host be visible in the distance lifted high above the celebrants head.  Thank goodness even in the RC church this has now become a thing of the past .

By removing the pews and replacing them with comfortable well upholstered chairs the centre of activity has been moved to the middle of the nave and takes place around a circular table, thereby encompassing the congregation.  Should the full church need to be used then the arrangements can be instantly changed.

The 13th century Lady chapel was delightful and I found a ‘green man’ in the ceiling bosses, this character always intrigues me in holy places as it seems to point toward the profane.  The chapel once belonged to the Knights Templar then the Knights Hospitaller and now the Hospital of Saint Cross which we reported on recently.

The search outside to discover the memorial to Captain James Seton, the last man to die in a duel, proved fruitless as lichen had taken over.   I recommend his Wikipedia entry where one will discover it was all over a woman;  well, who would have guessed it!

If the church’s exterior belied its glamorous interior then the Surma Valley restaurant also had a few shocks for, as MW swung the car into the car park, I thought we were to have afternoon tea in “The Old Thatched Cottage”.  However, in contrast to its genteel village cottage exterior, once inside we discovered an opulently furnished Bangladesh restaurant with the formidable Abdul to greet us.  Of late I have been regularly eating in my local Punjabi restaurant and have grown unaccustomed to the more usual Bangladesh cuisine, but sadly I found my meal dry and slightly disappointing. MW however was profuse in his praise.

A good visit was finally rounded off by dodging the showers and visiting a Roman villa where the moles held sway. Well they probably had been there longer than the Romans.

Our Lunch 

  • Vegetable Pakora  BQ
  • Junglee Bhajia  MW
  • Tandoori king prawns, Pilau rice BQ
  • Chicken Tikka Gowchi  MW
  • Kingfisher Indian Lager  BQ
  • Echo Falls Shiraz  MW


Boldre – Church of St John the Baptist

Boldre Church is not too far from my home and so, when the weather conditions were right, I had called by a couple of times beforehand to take our usual photos. On each occasion I happened to meet and chat with some of the parishioners and got the overwhelming impression that St John’s is a particularly friendly church with a vibrant community spirit which they attributed to the influence of their popular vicar. When I got home I looked at the parish website – bsbb.org.uk/st-johns/ – and came across Reverend Canon Andrew Neaum’s entertaining and compelling welcome to the church and immediately understood the attraction. As a lapsed Anglo-Catholic with fond memories of singing in a church choir some 70 years ago, I felt a regret that I didn’t live closer to St. John’s.


The church of St John the Baptist is surely one of the most picturesque churches we have visited since we began this diary a little over a year ago.  Its hilltop position in open countryside away from any village adds to its attraction.  For centuries, St John was the Mother Church of the southern New Forest and this possibly explains its unusual position in that it was intended to serve several communities rather than just one village.

There seems to be some uncertainty as to when the site was originally a place of worship but the discovery of three sarsen stones in the foundations suggest it could have been as long ago as 2000BC.  The earliest Christian Church was constructed in the 1080’s – the 900th anniversary was celebrated in 1987 and a commemorative plaque to mark the occasion can be seen at the eastern end of the south aisle.  During the 13th century the north Chapel was built, the south porch added and the nave lengthened resulting in a building substantially similar to the one we see today.

For the first time photos were taken on two different occasions, although just a few days apart. A decent snowfall in the New Forest occurs so infrequently nowadays, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss


The lower part of the tower was constructed in the 14th century, and the upper section in brick was added in the 17th century.


The entire Norman Church occupied the space within just the central part of the nave beginning at the point where it has been extended to the left.  In the 12th century the south aisle on the right was added


A view of the nave, chancel, north aisle and 14th century barrel roof. In 1958 several of the bosses were taken down to be repainted and have woodworm damage repaired.  However seven could not be removed from the strong iron spikes holding them in position, so a member of the congregation volunteered to climb the builders scaffolding and repair and paint them in situ.

The choir and chancel.  The choir singers have had a long if sometimes unsettled history.  In 1792 they were described as ‘a fine band of singers full of rough harmony’.  However, in 1811 they struck for more pay and were replaced by a less demanding choir from the daughter church in South Baddesley.  Since then there has been a succession of excellent organists and choirs of a high standard.


The ornate pulpit was designed by Norman Shaw (he who designed New Scotland Yard). It was given in memory of the Reverend Charles Shrubb, curate then vicar for 57 years from 1817.

Traditionally, in exchange for one guinea and a goose, the vicar of the day has been expected to deliver The Wild Beast Sermon on the Sunday nearest to March 18th to commemorate the escape of a member of the Worsley family from a wild beast. This could be quite a challenge as it was uncertain whether the animal concerned was a wild lion in Africa, a wild boar in the New Forest or an escaped lion from a travelling menagerie, all of these versions having been advanced at one time or another. In the 1990s the endowment set up to fund the payments was amalgamated with another parish charity.

The lectern was carved over a period of twenty years from two pieces of oak  from nearby Boldre Grange.  The impressive wall tablet is a memorial to John Kemp,  MP for Lymington in 1640 and is one of just a few busts to have survived the Cromwellian age unvandalised.



The beautifully engraved Millennium window shows the church in its rural setting with trees, river, flora and fauna each having a symbolic meaning.

It was commissioned by the Parish Church Council to mark the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ and was designed and engraved by Tracey Sheppard and installed in April 2000.



When HMS Hood was sunk in Icelandic waters in May 1941 by the German battleship Bismarck it became the worst naval disaster of all time. Of the crew of 1,421 just 3 survived.  Vice Admiral L. E. Holland who, with his wife and family, had been a regular worshipper at Boldre was among those who were lost.  After the war, when it became clear that no official memorial was to be raised to those who had died, Mrs Phyllis Holland planned and carried out the scheme to bring the HMS Hood memorial to Boldre Church.  The illuminated book of remembrance can be seen in the north-west corner of the north chapel.  Many of the church kneelers and the two fine oak benches in the porch depict the Hood’s famous badge featuring a Cornish Chough grasping an anchor.  In the poignant photo below those same iconic Choughs can be seen on the tampions fitted to protect the Hood’s two 7.5 inch gun barrels from sea water.  I find this photo of the Hood incredibly sad, with the relaxed crew, sailing in warm waters, far from the terrifying Icelandic sea.  Mostly young lads, who should have had a long life ahead of them destined for an early and violent end.




Boldre Church has long been a favourite subject of artists attracted to this picturesque corner of the New Forest.


During one of the earlier visits when I took the drone photos, I had the pleasure of meeting the church mouse catcher, Pam Knight as she emerged from the building with a recently caught victim. I was only too pleased to be able to help her remove the animal from the trap which she quite rightly insisted must be well away from consecrated ground.


The Fleur de Lys

The little community of Pilley, not much more than a mile from the church, is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, and in the centre of the village is the Fleur de Lys, the oldest pub in the New Forest.  Depicted in this Victorian painting, it is only nine years younger than the church having celebrated its 900th anniversary in 1996.  A list of landlords is held at the inn and goes back to Benjamin Stones in 1498.




I thought our lunch was quite excellent, thoroughly deserving a 4 star award.
BQ, after complaining of the draught from an open door moved almost into the vast fireplace together with the collection of ancient cooking implements.

BQ’s Impressions

Out of Town Religion
What on earth is the mother church of Brockenhurst and Lymington, both thriving communities, doing sitting isolated atop a hill in splendid isolation?
Did the occupying force of the Norman invaders foresee that one thousand years later the arrival of the motor car would make this site and its large car park a magnet to the area?   Is this yet another case of Norman Wisdom (one for the oldies)!
On the morning of our visit we arrived to find a funeral taking place at the church, and the large car park was full with a sizeable overspill on the road, and so in deference, we made the decision to divert to dining first.
After a good meal, more of that later, the church had returned to its quiet and isolated best although we happened upon a pair of hikers in the porch drying their soaked clothing.  I was struck that even in these modern times the church was offering shelter and rest to those on foot.
Built within a few years of the conquest this Norman structure was probably placed on the hill to show the populace “who’s boss”.  However the site is very beautiful and the building sits exquisitely in the large graveyard with its seats and trees offering places of quiet contemplation in an ideal situation. The fine squat tower is placed to the south of the chancel and the grouping is pleasingly symmetrical.
The entrance porch has two benches carved with the “Cornish Chough”, the emblem of the stricken cruiser HMS Hood whose memorial is inside the building.
The interior is largely unaltered since the 13th century, its Norman heritage is given away by the eastern bays on the southern arcade with the remainder early Gothic.  The pleasing light in the building is the result of modern windows which, despite being decorative, also allow the natural light to penetrate the interior.
This is particularly true of the modern east and west windows, designed by Alan Younger whose semi-abstract designs although conveying deep spirituality do not exclude daylight.
It is difficult to escape the ghost of William Gilpin who in the 18th century arrived to find his parishioners ‘little better than a set of bandits’ – perhaps the New Forest rivalled at this time Sherwood Forest.  His memorial is in the North Chapel but his paintings and enthusiasm for the countryside reached out to the wider public and he made the local area popular.
Although this seems an odd landlocked situation to find the memorial to HMS Hood sunk in the Second World War, the Vice-Admiral on board was a local man and so the church became a moving memorial to those who perished.
And so to lunch and very good it was, the nearby Fleur de Lys is probably the oldest inn in which I have drunk, as the first pint recorded was downed in 1096.
This was very much on my mind as I sampled a taster of Jail Ale brewed on Dartmoor which was so good I ordered a flagon.  Throughout my life I have often found that longevity is no guarantee of quality, but I am pleased to report that in this case it was.
After placing myself almost in the inglenook wherein blazed a comforting log fire, I made the mistake of having a starter, a large bowl of excellent homemade soup with bread.
With advancing years I must learn to discipline myself, as I was unable to finish the excellent liver and bacon due to my gluttony, which was a shame as the main course was a delight.  Hopefully in future I will learn from this lesson.

Our Lunch 

  • Leek and Potato Soup  BQ & MW
  • Calves liver, creamed potatoes, buttered cabbage, red onion sauce  BQ
  • Chicken and ham pie, creamed potatoes, root vegetables  MW
  • Dartmoor Jail beer  BQ
  • Chilean Merlot  MW


Winchester – St Cross Church

Our visit to St Cross Church was an unexpected pleasure, not least of all because it was unplanned.  We had travelled to Winchester to visit the smallest church in Hampshire and finished up in one of the largest.   Our intended destination was to have been St Swithun-upon-Kingsgate, a tiny medieval church built within the fabric of the city walls above the archway of Kingsgate, the principal entrance into the city.  However when we arrived we were met with a mass of scaffolding and builders vehicles and so we retired to a nearby bar where, over cups of coffee, we re-planned the day.  The Norman Church of St. Cross was the obvious alternative, being just a few hundred yards away.  It turned out to be an excellent choice, awe inspiring in its scale, with a unique history.

On our arrival we were surprised to find that there was an entrance fee, certainly a first for Dine and Divine.  Later we discovered that, as travellers, we were entitled to claim a Wayfarer’s Dole – a morsel of bread and a horn of beer, but more about this later.



Construction of St Cross began in 1135 and was finally completed in 1295, a 160 year timescale during which the predominant architectural style changed from Norman to Transitional and finally to Early English or Gothic.  The walls are over 1 metre thick and are of stone brought in from Caen in France, Dorset and the Isle of Wight.  Originally thatched, the church acquired a lead roof in the mid 14th century.


The nave was the last part of the church to be built but, due to financial disputes, never reached the length originally intended. The resulting shortness adds to the sense of loftiness.  The encaustic floor tiles are quite beautiful and date from 1390.


The chancel was the first part of the church to be built, typically Norman with the round-headed windows and extensive chevron ornament. The altar stone spent several hundred years buried beneath the altar and was only restored to its former position in 1928. It is thought that the church had been warned in advance that Cromwell’s Puritans were planning a visit and had enough time to save the stone by burying it.

Beneath the tower.  The painted ceiling at the crossing was added in 1383.  Our guidebook suggests that visitors, unless of a nervous disposition, should use binoculars to study the sixteen grotesque carved heads on the corbels that support the beams.  Sadly, we had no binoculars with us.


The Lady Chapel is, in my opinion, the most beautiful corner of the church with its exquisite carved stonework.  The triptych is Flemish and the chair on the left is brought out and used for the gowning ceremony of a brother.

The Choir


This ornate wood carving was originally installed in the Bishop’s Palace at Wolvesey.  However, one of the carved heads depicts Queen Anne Boleyn.  When the bishop learned that Henry VIII was due to pay him a visit shortly after having Anne beheaded, the bishop had the carving moved into St Cross in order to avoid incurring royal displeasure.


BQ studies the graffiti carved into the choir stalls by generations of choirboys over many centuries.  Despite the vandalism one can’t help admiring the quality of the calligraphy.



The unusual lectern with a body of an eagle and a head of a parrot.


The re-cycled font came from the nearby demolished church of St Faith and dates from the 1100’s.  The base is 17th century.


The Hospital of St Cross


St Cross Church is just part of the Hospital of St Cross which was founded in 1132. It is England’s oldest charitable institution. Though not a hospital in the modern sense of the word, it was established to support thirteen poor men so frail they were unable to work, and to feed one hundred men at the gates each day. The thirteen men became known as the Brothers of St Cross and wore a black robe, a black trencher hat and a silver badge in the shape of the cross of Jerusalem.

The hospital’s foundation is reputed to have been inspired during a walk through the Itchen meadows taken by Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester and grandson of William the Conqueror. He was supposedly stopped by a young peasant girl who begged Henry to help her people, who were starving because of the civil war. The parallel with the Virgin Mary was not lost on Henry, who was so moved by the girl’s plight that when, a little further along the river, he discovered the ruins of a religious house, he resolved to use the site to establish a new community to help the poor.


The hospital was extended in 1445 by Cardinal Henry Beaufort who founded the Order of Noble Poverty.  These brothers, 25 in number, wore claret instead of black  and were accommodated in the long terrace almshouse that was added to the existing hospital buildings giving St Cross the look that we see today.

Surprisingly these ancient arrangements continue to the present, the two orders are known as either Black Brothers or Red Brothers.  They must be single, widowed or divorced, and over 60 years of age. Preference is given to those in most need. They are expected to wear their robes and attend daily morning prayers in the Church. We noticed several brothers during our visit.

Also surviving to the present day is the ancient tradition of the ‘Wayfarer’s Dole’, which consists of a small horn cup of ale and a piece of bread. Any genuine traveller passing by can still freely claim the ‘dole’ at the porters lodge. I wish we had known at the time!

This tradition gained wide publicity around a hundred years ago resulting in a variety of postcards being published depicting dole recipients.  It appears to me that the brother offering the refreshment looks decidedly unsympathetic.


The Wykeham Arms



Since 1755, when it was a coaching Inn, there has been a pub on this site catering to the needs of travellers moving to and from the coast.  Lord Nelson himself is said to have stayed here on his way to Portsmouth.  The Wykeham Arms encapsulates all the eccentricities of Winchester under one roof with its extensive collection of pewter and silver tankards covering the walls and ceiling. 



Many of the tables were, in a previous life, school desks at the nearby prestigious Winchester School. Considering this has always been one of the most expensive fee paying schools in the land, the quality of the students graffiti compares unfavourably with the lowly choirboys just down the road.

Unfortunately I was quite disappointed with the Wyk Pie which was oily.  I have had it once before on a previous visit and it had been excellent, living up to its reputation of being the traditional choice and firm favourite of Winchester School pupils when being treated by parents as they were being returned for the beginning of another term.

I couldn’t help noticing the hat box next to our table. It looked the perfect shape to accommodate the hat that one sees on portraits of Lord Nelson and I idly wondered if he might have left it at the inn as he hurried to Portsmouth in 1805 to take command of HMS Victory ready to face the might of the Spanish Armada. In view of the outcome, one can understand why he would never have come back to claim it!


BQ’s Impressions

The first impression on entering St Cross church was one of warmth after struggling through the snow in a bitter wind as, miraculously, the heating was on.

After entering the building, the progression down the nave toward the high altar was a history lesson in itself, as the architecture changed from early Gothic to late Romanesque in a gentle and logical progression without destroying the beautiful unity of the whole.   The interior hangs together in breathtaking consistency despite the passage of centuries of discreet changing styles.

The slightly pointed arches gently give way to rounded arches with spectacular chevron zigzag decorations. These decorations reached their perfect culmination in the Lady Chapel which, in this vast structure, was intimate and perfect for private prayer. A light signified that the blessed sacrament was reserved here.   In comparison with the nearby Winchester Cathedral the memorials in St Cross are at a minimum so nothing detracts from the symmetry of the whole structure.

I was reminded of the period when I lived in Durham City overlooking the greatest Norman structure in the country, namely Durham cathedral. I became fascinated with its architecture and St Cross church was almost like a scaled down version of that icon.

Set alongside the river in the water meadows under St Catherine’s hill the situation is idyllic, and over the centuries has resisted the urban sprawl of a busy commuter town.

In our younger days MW and I would have walked along the river to our lunch destination, the quirky and much loved Wykeham Arms, for although MW can still manage it, regretfully I no longer can. Often voted the national pub of the year it has an awesome record to live up to and by the time we arrived its regulars were well ensconced in the well graffitied school desks which doubled for tables

Having found a spare table it was only when my canine friends arrived that I discovered a dog bowl beneath my chair.   MW, knowing of my aversion to any dog, collapsed with laughter.  However, I am happy to say that all of the animals behaved impeccably.

In such pubby surroundings MW had a half pint of beer instead of his usual glass of wine.  My meal was variable, with a fine and original soup to begin, which the charming waitress advised me was vegan, (perhaps things in this direction are not as ghastly as I have always imagined).  My fish however, was disappointing, but I have never been a great fan of hake (the cod was off).

Our Lunch

  • Carrot, parsnip & apple soup, pumpkin seeds, homemade bread   BQ
  • Devilled mushrooms, duck egg, brioche   MW
  • Hake, brown crab cannelloni, sweet potato, avocado salsa  BQ
  • The Wyk Shepherd’s pie, garden peas MW
  •  Fullers London Pride Beer  BQ
  • Fullers Spring Sprinter Pale Ale MW 


Lyndhurst – St Michael and All Angels

Things usually do not go well for the population when their country is invaded by a foreign power, and this was particularly true for the inhabitants of the area we visited today following the last successful invasion of England.  The invader was William the Conqueror, or William l, (the first Norman King of England), and the date 1066.    As soon as all resistance was quelled, an extensive area of land was named ‘The New Forest’ and furthermore it was proclaimed to be a royal forest, to be used exclusively for royal hunts. Twenty hamlets and numerous farmsteads within the area were razed to the ground causing a great deal of hardship and distress.

Remarkably, over 90% of the forest has stayed in the hands of The Crown throughout the past 1000 years and the fortunate result is that an area of 220 square miles in Southern England, the most densely inhabited part of the United Kingdom, has remained largely unfenced and undeveloped with wild ponies and numerous deer still running free.  

The New Forest National Park, as it is now known, is neither new nor much of a forest.  There is some woodland, but the area is mostly heath and, although it can seem somewhat barren in places, it has its own unique beauty, an attraction that I appreciated as I drove to the ‘Capital of the New Forest’, Lyndhurst on the day of our visit to St Michael and All Angels Church.   The morning was sunny and unseasonably mild, the road was almost traffic free and there was a feeling that Spring was not far away.  MW


Lyndhurst was once a popular and attractive tourist centre with many flourishing hotels, but sadly, its unique position, surrounded by land ‘of Special Scientific Interest’ has been its undoing.  For the past 80 years various authorities have been arguing about how best to relieve the dreadful traffic jams that constantly blight the village, without compromising the surrounding land – an impossible task and so, thus far, nothing has been done.  I have already had one rant on the subject in our Minstead Church visit, posted last October, so I should probably leave it at that.     Fortunately today we were able to slip in and out of a car park avoiding the dreaded one-way system.

Any negative thoughts however, were quickly dispelled as we entered the church which was warm and inviting .  The low winter sunshine streamed through the windows revealing a truly spectacular interior.


For a village of modest size, St Michael and All Angels Church is an incredibly imposing red brick structure with a towering 160ft spire visible for miles around.  This is the second Victorian church we have visited and is equally impressive as the previous one at Privett.  Construction was carried out between 1858 and 1869 and was funded by an appeal from the vicar to the parish and its neighbours.  The Reverend Compton explained to the poor that the new church would provide seats for them as well, so they needed to help too.  He made a second appeal to complete the tower and spire.


The earliest record of a church on this site is from 1285 when Queen Eleanor of Castille made an offering ‘at Lyndhurst in the King’s Chapel there’.  In the 18th century the chapel shown here was erected on the same spot, with an additional aisle ‘for the gentry’ added later. By the mid 19th century the building had become so dilapidated that a replacement was essential


The polychromatic brickwork in red, yellow and white, together with the Gothic arches and dark wood gives the interior a dramatic appearance.


The mural reredos that runs the width of the chancel portrays the parable of the wise and foolish virgins.  It is said that the Bishop disapproved of the theme but was over-ruled by the parishioners, who had after all, paid for the church.  The five wise virgins with their brightly burning lights were modelled by daughters of the local gentry while the foolish girls, with their lamps unlit, were from poorer village families.  (an indictment of the social mores of the day if ever there was).  The artist, Lord Leighton, refused payment for his work accepting only £27 for the materials – a real bargain particularly as he had recently sold one of his paintings to Queen Victoria for 600 guineas.


High above in the nave roof is an orchestra of life size wooden angels (kept dust-free by the local fire brigade)
A fine example of Pre-Raphaelite glass
The impressive Arabascato marble font


Once again our visit was made so much more enjoyable and informative as a result of meeting some members of the church community.  Suzanne, a church warden, in blue, and her colleague, Jan were most hospitable and kindly made us some coffee which was much appreciated.  I was also pleased to be able to meet Ann, the Benefice Administrator, in her office.  She shared her considerable knowledge of the church and, as well, produced a framed sketch of the chapel that preceded St Michael’s Church.   (Reproduced above)

Alice in Wonderland

Many visitors travel to the church as a pilgrimage to the grave of Alice Lidell who, when she was a young girl, inspired Lewis Carroll to write ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’.   Alice first met Carroll in Oxford when she was nine. She had moved there following her father’s appointment to the deanery at Christ Church College.  Carroll encountered the Liddells while he was photographing the cathedral and became a close family friend.  Alice became a photography subject and one of the stories he told her whilst on a boating trip became the famous children’s classic. 

Later in life Alice moved to Lyndhurst following her marriage to Reginald Gervis Hargreaves, the only son and heir to a local wealthy family who had played a leading role in the construction of St Michael and all Angels Church.  Alice and Reginald lived at Cuffnells, a grand estate near to the village and three sons were born.  Sadly her two youngest were killed in the Battle of the Somme during the Great War.

Following her marriage, Lewis Carroll and Alice had little contact.  At one stage Alice asked Carroll if he would be godfather to her son, but he did not reply.

Alice died in 1934 and is buried in the Hargreaves family plot at the rear of the church.




After a varying diet of pub lunches during recent Dine and Divine outings, it was a real treat to eat well at the Limewood Hotel on the outskirts of Lyndhurst.  The meal was simply, quite faultless, and the fact that every table was taken during a weekday lunch was testimony to its high reputation.  Food quality, presentation and service all justified our rarely given 5 star rating.



Special mention must be made of the superb cheeseboard from which BQ ate heartily, although I must confess to helping him out, even after the most indulgent of desserts.  

It was a frugal dinner that evening.



BQ’s Impressions

During the time that MW and I have been preparing our blog, we have visited two Victorian churches, Lyndhurst and Privett, the latter the result of powerful rich benefaction, but  now redundant, and the former built by the will, charity and enthusiasm of local people and still very much alive.  The other disparity is that St Michael’s was constructed on the site of previous buildings of worship at the heart of a thriving community, the other the dream of an entrepreneur attempting to change the character of sparsely inhabited countryside based on unfulfilled expectations of the emerging railway network.
In the past, our travels have taken us to a variety of early churches where any form of decoration was either destroyed or firmly whitewashed over following the reformation by the newly established Church of England who insisted that the word was paramount.  This might explain the attitude of the Bishop of Winchester and his opposition to the mural proposed by Lord Leighton of “The wise and foolish Virgins”.  However, all of this coincided with the start of the Oxford Movement encouraged by a group of influential Church of England clergy who supported a move towards Catholicism and eventually became known as Anglo-Catholics led by John Henry Newman who later became a Cardinal following his conversion to Rome.   Alongside this was the development of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood of artists who also used biblical texts in their paintings.  St. Michael’s, more than any other church I have visited, represents the fusion of these movements in a glorious and beautiful time capsule, wonderfully preserved for us to enjoy.
The church interior is astonishing and although I have never been particularly keen on brick-built churches this one somehow succeeds, no space is left blank as trumpeters, angels, saints and foliate capitals crowd in but never overpower.  If all that is not sufficient, in the north aisle there are the stained glass windows where a succession of draped ladies in soft colours appear in a bucolic setting.  With the low winter sunshine illuminating everything, the visit was magical. 

Just when I thought the day could not get better, MW whisked me off across the forest to Limeswood, a hotel with an awesome reputation.  And it was well deserved for, as we arrived, a receptionist took my car keys to pass to a member of staff to drive it to the car park.   I had only seen this before in the movies. WOW!

Our Lunch

  • Brill, celeriac, mussels on toast, creamed potato   BQ
  • Steamed Skrei cod, brassicas, cultured butter, crab   MW
  • English and Italian artisan cheese   BQ
  • Chocolate orange tart with blood orange sorbet  MW
  • From the hotel  ‘Secret Cellar’  
  • Sancerre, Sauvignon Blanc, Domaine Sautereau, Loire Valley  BQ & MW 


Fawley – The Parish Church of All Saints


The Parish Church of All Saints in Fawley has hardly changed during the past 700 years, but in this view it looks quite incongruous against the alien backdrop of the largest oil refinery in Europe.

As we stood in the churchyard there was no sign of the huge installation although the throb of heavy machinery  was a constant reminder of its presence.  What a contrast as we entered into the silence of the church, which was warm and welcoming and clearly a much loved community centre as well as a place of worship.  We had not been there long when, as arranged, we were joined by one of the churchwardens, Margaret Richards.    Charming and knowledgeable, she made our visit a real pleasure and we are indeed indebted to her for the help and guidance she gave us


 Essentially the present building consists of a 12th century chancel and nave flanked to the north and to the south by 14th century aisles.  Little has survived from the church’s Saxon origins apart from one small window or squint, that has been re-positioned to a point opposite the chancel on the exterior east wall. 

The squint, sometimes known as a leper window was generally used to allow those with a contagious disease to take part in the service without endangering the health of the congregation.


The interior of the church is bright and cheerful with modern seating which replaced pews which, together with the wooden floor, had been removed in 1988 after dry rot had been discovered.  The flooring was replaced by Purbeck stone tiles which perfectly match the rest of the building.

In the mid nineteenth century the interior must have looked quite different with a much higher ceiling as a detailed description from the period states;  “The church was a most remarkable specimen of pewing.  There were five galleries, two at the west end reached by different staircases and quite separate. One was for the orchestra (bass, viola, flute etc.), the other for men. On the south side was the Eaglehurst pew and the old Lord Cavan requested the vicar, Lord Walsingham, to have one of the pillars in the nave cut away because it interfered with his view of the pulpit.  Happily Lord Walsingham declined.  On the north side were two further galleries, the one to the west end for men and women, the other simply a pew belonging to one of the farms, so placed that the occupant could, if he pleased, read the sermon for himself if it were legibly written”.


The Chancel

On 23rd November, 1940 the chancel and north chapel were severely damaged  during an enemy air-raid.  A high explosive bomb fell through the roof and exploded slightly north of the centre of the chancel leaving a crater in the floor eight feet deep and 20 ft across.  The chancel roof was completely destroyed but the solid Norman walls held firm, a testament to the skill of the original stone masons. Sadly the 14th century stained glass in the south chapel was shattered but miraculously, the window in the north chapel dedicated to those who fell in the First World War, was undamaged.

The cost of restoration was met by the War Damage Commission together with £2,000 raised by the parishioners plus a gift of £5,000 from the Esso Petroleum Company, owners of the refinery – presumably the intended target of the bomb.

The church was rededicated on the 12th September, 1954 by the Bishop of Winchester.


The pulpit is a beautiful piece of Jacobean work (early 17th century). Originally this was a three decker pulpit, but it now lacks the lower reading desk, the place for the Parish Clerk ‘to keep the congregation in order’.  In the background is the relatively modern font thought to date from the mid 19th century.

Looking down into the North Aisle.  On the left is a fine memorial to local inhabitants that lost their lives in the two World Wars

9The South Chapel dates from around 1330.  It is now used as a vestry and has a number of interesting items of memorabilia on display, including part of the 1940 bomb and items donated by the church’s Link Parish of Mukono in Rwanda.



But the most interesting and unlikely item on display is a simple model boat in a glass case.  It has an fascinating story;

On the morning of the 9th October 1961 the village gong – an old shell case left by the Royal Navy – was urgently sounded in the most remote community in the world. The village was situated 6,100 miles away on the volcanic island of Tristan da Cuhna, and the urgent warning was to let the 268 inhabitants know that it was time to abandon the only home they had ever known. For two months they had been shaken by a series of tremors that had increased in severity until finally a huge shock, the immediate prelude to a devastating eruption, brought down the cliff face behind their settlement. The British government who were responsible for the island made the decision that the whole population must be evacuated and eventually they were all re-housed in the married quarters of a recently decommissioned RAF camp close to Fawley.
It would be 18 months before the eruption subsided and during that time the islanders were welcomed into the congregation of All Saints Church. The men were found jobs and the women mostly stayed at home. Before their exile, the islanders had never seen a television, car, telephone; supermarket or even a policeman and the government assumed that after tasting the pleasures of a consumer society they would wish to remain in the UK. This would have been a welcome development as the government would have been relieved of the responsibility of maintaining the island. There were even plans considered to then use Tristan da Cunha for atomic bomb testing.
A referendum among the group was arranged but to everyone’s astonishment, the overwhelming majority voted to return home which they did, departing on the RMS Amazon on 17th March, 1963 taking with them four Englishmen that had married Tristan da Cunha girls. Before they left they made a donation to the church that had welcomed them – a wonderfully evocative model of a traditional island longboat similar to the ones they had used to make their escape from the island on that fateful morning.



The Jolly Sailor, Ashlett Creek


The small hamlet of Ashlett Creek, now sandwiched between the refinery and a power station, is a reminder of what small settlements along Southampton Water must have looked like in the 19th century.  The large building, which dominates the creek, is an 1820 tide mill, the final mill in a series that were built over the centuries in this position.

The tranquility of the small harbour changed to frantic activity when construction of the oil refinery began in the 1920’s.  Now it is simply a haven for pleasure craft.
The Jolly Sailor was originally a beer house in the days when anyone who paid the poor rate and a £2 excise fee could sell beer. The Martin family were landlords for several generations.

The pub is adjacent to the tide mill,  just a short distance from Fawley.   BQ and I have occasionally dined there during the past twenty years and it is fair to say it has had its ups and downs, but it is the only dining option in the vicinity and it does have a great location.   I had dropped in earlier in the week to check when the restaurant would be open and as I entered the building it had been necessary to run the gauntlet by walking through the public bar in which there were almost as many dogs as humans.  As I passed through, the animals all strained on their leashes vying to be first to give the newcomer a good sniffing.  So when BQ and I returned on the following Saturday for our lunch, knowing BQ’s attitude to dogs, I let him enter first expecting some noisy entertainment, but alas, on this occasion, the bar was canine free.




This was definitely not the most healthy of meals we have had. All of the items in the main course had been immersed in a deep fat fryer, but I have to confess it all tasted very good, cooked to perfection with a tasty spicy seasoning.




BQ’s Impressions

Unlikely Neighbours

Oil and religion – the cause of most conflicts in my lifetime; but one has been there for 1000 years the other for under a century and I’m willing to bet only one will be there in 50 years time as the world struggles to free itself from its dependence on oil.

Mind you the church only continues to flourish by intelligent use of its space for other purposes such as community events and even concerts, indeed the next event was a performance by an R.E.M. tribute band.   Whilst berating my son about tribute bands recently, he asked me what was the difference to me listening to a Mozart symphony?   As usual I had no answer to that one!

Arriving first, I spent a half hour on my own enjoying the warm atmosphere and the comforting shape and variety of styles in the structure.  It was possible to trace the history of the building throughout the past millennium, which I found very satisfying.  I could find no surviving Saxon remains, but did admire the Norman pillars with their fine capitals topped by early English arches.  The restoration of the bombed area was finished to a high standard by first rate craftsmen. As with so many churches these days, the pews had been removed and replaced by modern seats which gives more flexibility to arrange the ever necessary money raising activities.

Yet again however, I gained much succour from the presence of a communion light, albeit electronic, as my appointment with my canine friends awaited in the Jolly Sailor.  MW had been at pains to make me aware of the gauntlet I was about to run in the bar.  However my prayers were answered as not one animal was visible!

I did, however have my revenge when, in the pub, he committed the error of ordering a glass of Shiraz that had obviously been in an opened bottle for some considerable time.  The look of disgust on his face was worth all the apprehension I had suffered and furthermore, my Ringwood best bitter was perfect.  But, in the manner of true fellowship, we did elect to share a plate of deep fried heaven and to hell with the  consequences which, for me, usually involves a packet of Rennies.  It was delicious!!



Our Lunch

  • Prawn Cocktail  BQ
  • Oxtail Soup  MW
  • ‘Combo to Share’  Chicken goujons, chicken wings, BBQ ribs, onion rings, potato wedges and garlic bread   BQ & MW
  • Ringwood Best Bitter  BQ
  • A glass of the ‘House Red’  (Shiraz)  MW




Privett – Holy Trinity Church

The Holy Trinity Church in Privett is a quite remarkable building.  It is the first Victorian Church we have visited and, considering the size of the local community, built on an epic scale.  Indeed it has the highest steeple of any church in Hampshire.  On entering the building one cannot fail to be impressed by such a lavishly decorated church with its Italian marble mosaic floors, magnificent stonework and stained glass.   It has scarcely changed since it was erected between 1876 and 1878, financed by Sir William Nicholson, head of  the famous family of distillers.  At the time it was joked that this magnificent edifice was funded by gin and sin!  No expense was spared in the building, the internal fittings being designed and created by some of the finest craftsmen of the day.

The initial feelings of awe and admiration on entering the building turned to sadness as one realises that it is a church without a congregation.  It fell out of general use in the 1970s and is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.  However, there is still an annual Carol service which attracts a huge congregation from far and wide, all wrapped in woollen rugs to keep out the cold in the cathedral like splendour.  I can certainly sympathise as, after 20 minutes photographing the interior, I had lost all feeling in the fingers.  BQ had already retreated to the car.


Detail from the exquisitely carved stone pulpit
The altar is set on a dais reached by seven steps of black Belgian marble. It is backed by a splendid reredos of Caen stone which covers the entire east wall.


A plaque on the southern wall of the church commemorates the death of Sir William’s son, Godfrey Maule Nicholson in 1901 when he was manager of the Stratford distillery.   Godfrey had accompanied three of his workers to check on the state of a disused well in the grounds of the distillery.  A ladder was put down and one of the workers was told to put a rod to the bottom of the well. No sooner had he reported back that the water registered 11 feet deep when he suddenly fell into the water,  Godfrey Nicholson, not understanding the cause of the man’s disappearance immediately went down the ladder to his assistance, but as soon as he got a little way, he too was overcome and fell.  The foreman and one other man also attempted a rescue and were lost.  The commotion attracted the attention of nearby workers who had to be forcibly restrained from descending the ladder to help their colleagues. At a subsequent inquest info the four deaths it was determined that the rod had released a collection of deadly methane at the bottom of the water and the company was criticised for not lowering a lit candle into the well beforehand, a normal precaution.helping hands


One hundred years later, in 2001, this poignant monument named ‘helping hands’ was erected in Stratford at the site of the tragedy as a memorial to the sacrifice of those who lost their lives attempting to help others.

In 2012 the site became incorporated into the London Olympic Park


In contrast to the beauty of the interior which looks little changed from the time it was completed, the exterior seems sadly neglected in the dank shadows of the now mature trees that surround it.


Under the benevolent influence of the Nicholson family at the nearby Basing Park Estate, the church and village flourished. The choir of 18 boys and 12 men were trained by one of the Nicholson daughters, Gertrude, and the children enjoyed the charabanc outings and Christmas parties that were a feature of village life in those days. The railway arrived at the beginning of the 20th century and Privett station was built on a grand scale with extensive yards, sheds, sidings, and 500 feet long platforms.

The Nicholson Family

W.G. Nicholson died in 1942, and with his death began the demise of the Basing Park Estate. The house fell into disrepair and was pulled down in the 1960s. The land was sold off. The school closed to become a residential centre, and the vicarage, the pub, the village shop and the blacksmith are all now private houses.  The railway was closed in the 1950s. Only the great church remains, a proud reminder of earlier times.

The Angel hotel



The Angel Hotel was originally named ‘The Privet Bush’ and was built in 1902 by the very same W G Nicholson to coincide with the opening of the Meon Valley Railway.  The newly constructed Privett railway station was conveniently opposite the hotel and it was hoped that the new line would bring welcome visitors to the area. A rather ornate wrought iron sign in the shape of a privet bush costing £50 was hung outside the new pub, paid for by Miss Isobel Nicholson, daughter of the owner.

As Privett station was higher than the surrounding area and the line had a downhill gradient on either direction, trains could easily make up time and it was common for the engine driver to drop in to the Privet Bush bar for a quick pint before setting off downhill at top speed to the next station.


Since those early years, so full of hope, the Privet Bush seems to have had a number of reincarnations.  Later it was to become ‘The Lawns Hotel’, then ‘Ye Olde Pig and Whistle’ and now ‘The Angel’. However, despite all the past upheavals we found good hospitality and excellent pub food.  The visit was made all the more interesting by an exhibition in the dining room of photographs of the defunct Meon Valley railway.32

BQ’s impressions

The gloomy weather could not have been more fitting for an expedition to a vast Victorian mausoleum now a redundant church in the middle of nowhere.
The feeling was eerie and one would not have been surprised to come across Vincent Price in a long black cloak lurking between the gravestones. Well the date of our visit did coincide with the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein.
The huge structure was wreathed in mist and the famous spire, the tallest in Hampshire disappeared into the gloom. The path to the door was muddy and a sign inside the porch warned us about being locked in but, ignoring all the signs, we ventured into the interior not without some trepidation.
What a transformation greeted us when we switched the lights on, for here was magnificent beautifully decorated Victorian interior that positively glowed with warmth despite the freezing temperature.
However the overall impression to a practicing Christian like myself was one of sadness that such a wonderful creation could be abandoned almost like a memorial of a past civilisation.
Thankfully then I was reminded of the reason for it’s existence built on the massive profits of a gin empire and perhaps to salve the conscience of of an entrepreneur who bought such misery to the poor of London. My family always referred to the drink as”mothers ruin”.
It is interesting to note that the brand has recently been revived and Nicholson gin is once again available with its distinctive “bacon and egg” coloured logo, which became the colours of the MCC when the benefactor purchased Lords cricket ground.
It is ironic that such an august institution had its beginning in product advertising.
In stark contrast the The Angel was a haven of all things welcoming and warm and we thawed out on the sumptuous armchairs before ordering lunch
Whilst perusing the board for starters, Wendy our waitress did point out that the meals were substantial, and how right she was. The single course was ample.
This was well cooked good pub food at its best, my home cured ham was as tasty as any I could remember and MW was equally enthusiastic over his chilli con carne.
We left replete and happy   BQ

  • Our Lunch

  • Home cured ham with eggs, chips and peas  BQ
  • Chilli con carne  MW
  • Draught London pride Original  BQ
  • Draught Peroni Azzurro Italian lager  MW


Hamble-le-Rice – The Priory Church of St Andrew, the Apostle

Our visit to St Andrew’s Church was a delight mainly because it was unexpecteod and unplanned. We had originally arranged a full day excursion to one of the more outlying Hampshire churches, but this had to be cancelled at short notice following an unwelcome dental emergency.  By the time this had been dealt with we were left with just a half day.  St Andrew’s Church was chosen purely because it was close by, but once we had been there it was clear that it more than justified a visit on its own merits.  Quite why it is not included in our various reference books is hard to understand.

Our visit was made all the more enjoyable as we had the pleasure of meeting David Winsor who happened to be there at the time helping with the preparations for the Sunday services.  David, a licensed lay minister, has been associated with the church for 20 years.  He has an impressive knowledge of the building and gave us a fascinating guided tour of the church including a visit into the inner sanctum of the vestry.  To cap it all we had coffee with him in the adjacent Priory Centre before we left.  Altogether a most enjoyable and memorable visit.  MW



The Priory Church of St Andrew the Apostle is of ancient origin with evidence of Roman occupation and the remains of a Saxon Church.  Christianity arrived in Hamble as long ago as 720 thanks to the missionary, St Willibald, and by the 9th century a stone parish church had been erected on the site of the present building.

During the early 12th century a cell of six Benedictine monks became established having arrived from the Abbey of Tiron in France.  The Saxon church was considerably enlarged with the addition of a specially designed monastic choir and a tower. The monks enjoyed a close association with the great Benedictine Cathedral Priory in Winchester with an arrangement that in exchange for 20,000 oysters every mid-lent, the monks would receive six gowns, six pairs of shoes and six pairs of boots per annum plus a supply of  21 loaves and 43 flagons of ale provided every week. This seems to be an awful  lot of ale for just six monks, so one would hope that it was shared with their retainers.


The nave and tower dates from the 12th century, the chancel and porch from the 13th and the Lady Chapel from the 19th. The magnificent pipe organ shown here was presented to the parish by the Countess of Hardwicke in 1880 in remembrance of her son Eliot, who had been an equerry to the then Duke of Edinburgh.   In 1760 a gallery was constructed at the west end of the nave to seat just eleven parishioners. They were apportioned by casting lots after a price on each seat had been set.  The gallery remained in place for over a century before being taken down in 1879 when the tower area was opened up.


Here, David points out a stone in the interior south wall that was recently found to have become loose.  On its removal, a hiding place was discovered where the church valuables had been hidden in the 16th century to protect them from confiscation by the English Reformed Protestants who sought to “purify” the Church of England of its Catholic practices.

The walls of the nave adorned with a wonderful array of memorials and monuments and enhanced by the 18th century brass chandeliers


7aThe small Lady Chapel is a more recent addition having been completed in 1880.  There is a poignant wooden memorial on the south wall for the US Tanker Y17 which sailed from Hamble and went down with all hands. The incident was particularly sad as it occurred just before peace was declared. The captain and crew had been worshippers in the chapel during 1944. David mentioned that he had recently met a visitor to the church who had travelled from the United States to see his grandfather’s name memorialised on the plaque and was quite moved when it was found.

The earliest stained glass window and the earliest banner in the church, both lovingly made with exquisite detail



We were privileged to be admitted to the vestry where David showed us the wonderful collection of church vestments – truly impressive.  There were perhaps a dozen or so drawers in a special cabinet each with a dazzling garment.  I was surprised to discover that BQ knew the significance of the colours of these various vestments.  He never ceases to surprise.

The main entrance on the north side is through a fine Norman arch with chevron mouldings protected by a porch from 1402.  On the arch and the outer door there are numerous crosses made centuries ago by local fishermen.  As they went out to sea they would make a mark on the door.  When they returned safely they would cross the previous mark.





Now generally known locally as just Hamble, the village name has varied considerably over the centuries, from Hamelea in 730, to Hammel in 1496 and Ham-en-le-Rice in 1846.  Its geographical position has contributed greatly to its history and importance.  The many old wells in the area indicate that it has always had a good supply of fresh water and the fine mud of the river bed proved to be an excellent breeding ground for oysters and, as well, good for laying up wooden boats.  The area must have been settled for a very long time indeed as Neolithic implements and iron age earthworks have been discovered nearby.   Nowadays Hamble-le-Rice is mainly a boating mecca and the nearby River Hamble is frequently packed with marine traffic.  During the summer the village is crowded with yachties who come to the area to sail in the protected waters of the Solent.


The Bugle


The Inn has been in the heart of village life for many centuries, the original building dating from around 1600. At one time it was called The Bull, then later The Ferry House and now The Bugle.   At one time auctions and inquests were held there and it also featured in some court cases, such as when the landlord was convicted for permitting drunkenness, involving five invalid soldiers from the nearby Netley Hospital!   A plan to demolish the inn and replace it with housing in 2003 was fortunately scuppered when it was realised the the building had a listed status; as indeed do most structures built before 1840.



They built it up then burnt it down

Strange people the French, for after having set up the Benedictine Priory in Hamble, they raided the area 200  years later and burnt it down.    The original monastery was set up by Benedictine monks at St Tiron near Chartres in France along with another 260 priories of which only 6 are left – half of them are in Hampshire, namely Hyde Priory (now a ruin),  Bursledon, now St Leonards church (the subject of one of our very early visits) and here at Hamble.

The most striking feature of the present church is an ancient building which had been cherished and maintained to a very high standard over the millennia without any loss of its original features.  As a Catholic I felt very much at home in its inherent Anglo/Catholic atmosphere, including a lit sanctuary lamp – a sure sign of the living Christ’s presence at the altar.

After MW’s amazement at my knowledge of vestments I promised to set out this simplistic guide to the colours relating to the principal church services:  White – Easter & Christmas seasons;  Red – Martyrs’ days; Violet – Advent and Lent; Rose – individual days in Lent and Advent and finally Green – Masses in ordinary time

After this good spiritual experience it was off to the Bugle to sample the ways of the flesh.  The serving staff were disappointingly male but nonetheless courteous and efficient.  A half pint glass of badge beer brewed by the Itchen Valley brewery was excellent and the dining room was adequately furnished and welcoming.

Then, my heart gladdened, for at long last I was presented with a proper man-size napkin, by far the best in our travels.  Therefore to celebrate this fine ample cloth, I was able to order the parsnip soup in the knowledge that no spillage would drip onto my clothing.  MW had whitebait and trout which he enjoyed, but I am sad to report that my fish and chips (yes it was yet another Friday) was very disappointing with an old style thick batter and very greasy hand made chips. Still on the basis of the napkin and the excellent soup it gained two stars from me.  MW, more generously awarded three, that apparently could easily have been a four had it not been for an extremely stodgy dessert.  BQ


Our lunch

Parsnip Soup  BQ
Cajun Whitebait, mint creme fraiche    MW

Fish and chips  BQ
Marinated chalk stream trout and avocado tartare, mango puree, poached egg and coriander shoots.  MW

Autumn spiced fruit crumble and custard   

Bugle own beer BQ
Cabernet Sauvignon  MW




Nether Wallop – St. Andrews Church

There are three Wallops in Hampshire, Over Wallop, Middle Wallop and today’s destination, Nether Wallop.

It was a perfect warm, sunny day and, once we had negotiated the convoluted route through Romsey, it was empty roads and autumn colours all the way.  St Andrews Church in Nether Wallop is not mentioned in any of our reference books – we came across it quite by chance on the internet. This seems an odd omission as it turned out to be one of our most interesting visits
For the first time we had some difficulty in finding a pub or restaurant nearby.  All three Wallops are situated in close proximity, and each had a pub, but one was shut on a Monday, one was chef’s day off and the famous Five Bells in Nether Wallop, at one time the hub of the community, was closed down with little likelihood of an early reopening despite the residents having had it listed as a Community Asset and having raised sufficient finance to purchase it at its current market value from an owner who refuses to sell.  A great pity and all very mysterious! A case for Miss Marple perhaps.
So, the nearest option for food after our visit to St. Andrews was in the town of Stockbridge, about 4 miles away.  However, fortuitously as a result, we enjoyed one of the best lunches thus far. MW


Nether Wallop has been called the prettiest village in England and has been featured in several TV programmes. In particular, Dane Cottage in Five Bells Lane was used as Miss Marple’s home in the fictitious village of St Mary Mead for the BBC adaptations of the Agatha Christie novels. The house and many of the surrounding lanes within the village were used as the setting and are commonly seen throughout many of the Miss Marple films.
Before that, its main claim to fame was that is was the scene of the Dark Age battle of Guoloppum in AD436.


St Andrews Church dates from the first decade of the 11th century at a time when Nether Wallop was the property of Earl Godwin but, following Norman the Conquerer’s victory in 1066, the manor was confiscated and retained by the crown until Henry II gave the church to York Minster – 250 miles away – in whose hands it remains to this day.
From a simple building it has been extended over the centuries, with the addition of a south aisle in the 12th century then, In the 13th century, a north aisle.

In the mid 1500’s the chancel was lengthened and both aisles widened. The present tower was constructed in 1704 following the collapse of an earlier tower and steeple as a result of rotted timbers.
All of these separate elements didn’t seem to me to sit very well together looking at it from the outside but, once we entered the spacious interior it was a different matter.

The nave with 17th century pews. The north aisle is in the foreground.
The south aisle and organ
The present chancel is unremarkable and retains no old detail. The date of its building is doubtful, probably not earlier than the 15th century.

The Wall Paintings

Many who visit St Andrew’s do so to see a series of Saxon and Medieval wall paintings. The earlier paintings are thought to be the only Anglo-Saxon paintings in situ in any English parish church. They are completely unique, and a remarkable historic treasure.



The later images are clearer and perhaps the more interesting. This painting from 1430, together with a modern explanation, is a morality picture. It is the story of the Sabbath Breakers, and was intended to be a moral lesson not to work on the Sabbath. The painting shows work tools inflicting a wound on Christ’s leg. It is fascinating to see the array of tools that were being used in the early 15th century. You can make out a set of scales, a quern for grinding corn, an axe, a knife, and many more.



This painting shows St George slaying the dragon to rescue Princess Cleodolinda, the king’s daughter. The dragon figure is worn, but you can see the coils of his tail. St George is watched by the king and queen. Each has a different expression; the king looks on in admiration at the knight’s skill in vanquishing the dragon, while the queen is alarmed for her daughter’s safety.

Set into the nave floor under a carpet is a memorial brass to Mary Gore, abbess of Amesbury, dated 1437. This is thought to be the only brass of an abbess in England.
The most striking monument is outside the west end of the church. It is a peculiar memorial in the shape of a large pyramid, commemorating Francis and Anne Dowse, who died in 1760 and 1757 respectively.


Stockbridge and our lunch venue – The Greyhound on the Test



The town of Stockbridge, formerly known as Le Street, is basically a single row of buildings on either side of a wide Street which crosses the test valley on a causeway of compressed chalk laid down in the remote past. The river is shallow and divides here into five streams which thread their way through the marshy meadows and under the main road. The bridges are built so low that it is joked that the ducks have to bend their heads when passing under them.  The town grew in importance and prosperity when Welsh drovers rested here with their flocks on their way to various sheep fairs and markets in the South East. Sadly the plague of 1666 devastated the town which became almost deserted and the poverty of the remaining inhabitants was so great that the market which had been confirmed to the town by Henry V was discontinued.



The ‘Greyhound on the Test’ is a classy boutique hotel and restaurant dating from the early 1800s.  Its name refers to the local popularity of using greyhounds for hare coursing.
The food was as good as any we have so far tasted, the occasion made all the more enjoyable by our delightfully vivacious waitress, Rebecca.



Welcome to The House of Fun


When preparing myself spiritually to enter this ancient seat of worship nothing prepared me for the shock. For there, illuminated by the glorious winter sun, was a scene which was as memorable as it was amusing. The wall painting depicted St George slaying the dragon watched by a crowned couple in a pantomime castle both of whom bore a striking resemblance to the “Chuckle Brothers”.
With a sudden urge to laugh I sought a pew in which to recover my composure, but on reflection, I was a little ashamed of being guilty of transplanting sophisticated modern values to the 14th century and jumping to judgement. One can imagine the pleasure the congregation found in being able to trace in bright colours scenes from the bible.
The initial shock of this first scene was quickly followed by another 15th century figure surrounded by working tools of the period which was labelled “Sabbath Breakers”.
This is a vivid caricature warning people against Sunday work and, to my mind, has little spiritual significance. For the first time I had some sympathy with the puritans who had whitewashed these paintings over.
However, I was soon made to regret these heretical thoughts when faced the chancel arch with its magnificent painted and warmly coloured angels.
Thought to be the bottom half of “Christ in Majesty” and painted by the Winchester School in Saxon times these magnificent figures restored my faith in the art of church decoration.
Thence off to the racy and infamous Stockbridge where, in the days of its racecourse, Edwardian society behaved very badly and The Prince of Wales and Lilly Langtree became  national celebrities.
The present diners at The Greyhound for lunch behaved impeccably and the serving girls were suitably attentive and cheeky, presumably in keeping with the past.
Faced with a menu of amazing diversity and price MW retreated to his old habit of having two starters. I meanwhile relished the thought of monkfish with bouillabaisse which did not disappoint.
The meal was sumptuous and the sauce which can be variable, as good as I have tasted, indeed further bread was ordered in order to wipe the plate clean.
My first five star award and well deserved.    BQ

Our lunch
* Marinated pitted olives with freshly baked bread  BQ
* Jerusalem artichokes and truffle veloute, slow cooked ducks egg and chive oil  MW
* Monkfish bouillabaisse, fennel puree, bok choi, cayenne, mussel emulsion and saffron oil BQ
* Tunworth rarebit MW
* Cuvee Jean-Paul – Vaucluse, France BQ
* Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir – Canterbury, New Zealand MW





Minstead – All Saints Church

When driving to Minstead, I unwisely decided to go by the shortest route which meant via Lyndhurst.  I should have known better, being aware of its reputation for being the gridlock capital of the New Forest, but I have a lingering affection for the village, recalling my first visit in the late 40’s during a camping holiday with my father when ponies wandered through the streets. But now, as I crawled around the one way system for an eternity, irritation at the possibility of being late turned to anger at the insanity of it all.  I was reminded of John Betjeman’s line “It isn’t fit for humans now”.

Then, as I finally inched down the High Street I wondered how on earth the residents coped with this permanent traffic jam living in an environment of life-limiting exhaust fumes.      I imagined them dutifully paying their council taxes wondering what the recipients of their hard earned money were doing to improve their situation.  What would I do if I had the misfortune of living here I wondered – perhaps try and organise some form of civil disobedience to force the authorities to take some responsibility for their tax-payers’ health and safety.  Possibly involving flocks of sheep at ‘rush’ hour in the French tradition.  But then I reached the traffic lights and was soon on my way vowing never to repeat my mistake.

In contrast, Minstead was a welcome haven of traffic-free tranquility. It is a pretty village and as I sat in the autumn sunshine by the village shop/cafe with a freshly brewed cappuccino waiting for BQ to arrive, the world suddenly seemed a much better place.  MW




All Saints is a 13th century church refurbished in the 17th century.  The brick tower was built in 1774, but the rest is basically a parish church that nobody could afford to rebuild and so the more notable local families merely paid for new extensions, or pews as they were known, to be attached to the church to house their families, their staff and their tenants.  There are three such additions, north of the nave is the Minstead Lodge Pew with its own private entrance, and nearby,  the luxurious Castle Malwood pew complete with a fireplace and upholstered seating, giving it the look of a rather comfortable drawing room. Most remarkable is the spacious Minstead Manor pew once furnished with a sofa and even a table and chairs where refreshments could be served by their staff.

The Castle Malwood Pew complete with fireplace
The Spacious Minstead Manor Pew
There are two galleries in the nave.  The lower one was for the Church minstrels to play their instruments and the upper level was reserved for the poor of the parish and the children of the Charity School.
At the foot of the three-decker pulpit is an ancient stone font. It is said to be the oldest stone in the church, believed to be of Saxon origin. It was spared destruction by the Puritans by being buried in the rectory garden, where it remained undiscovered for 200 years when Henry James Abbott, who was doing some gardening, dug it up and wheeled it up to the Church in his wheelbarrow and it was placed where it belonged.
The font is estimated to have been carved in the 12th century.  The north face, shown above, depicts two lions sharing one head, its significance lost in the mists of time
The 12th century entrance and the ancient worn step that very nearly brought down BQ


Many visitors who come to Minstead Church do so as a pilgrimage to the grave of Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, who died in 1930, but was not buried in Minstead until 1955. As a devoted spiritualist he was first interred in an upright position in the rose garden of his home in Crowborough and here he remained until the family house was sold in 1955 when he and his wife were moved to Minstead.  The Church of England, embarrassed at Conan Doyle’s interest in spiritualism, agreed he could come to the churchyard, but buried his remains by the far boundary.

Near the path that leads from the lychgate to the porch is a tombstone whose inscription has had one word excised by a skilful mason. The gravestone originally bore the words ‘faithful husband’, but it seems that after his demise his widow learned that he had been unfaithful, so she had the word ‘faithful’ cut out. 


The Trusty Servant

A short walk down the hill led to our lunch venue, the 200 year old Trusty Servant Inn which overlooks Minstead’s attractive village green complete with a set of village stocks.



The inn’s sign is interesting.  It shows a Hircocervus, the idealised Trusty Servant, copied from the 1579 painting by John Hoskins that hangs in Winchester College. It depicts the qualities needed in a domestic servant, the padlock on its snout indicating total discretion, it has donkey’s ears, stag’s feet, and in his left hand he holds the tools of his profession, the right hand is open and raised, and he wears a shield and sword. The original Hircocervus, half stag, half goat originates in Medieval European mythology.


They Have their Exits and their Entrances

It is strange that both MW and myself studied the same Shakespeare play for our “O” levels namely “As You Like It”.   Spoken by the melancholy Jacques it could certainly be used to describe the history of the Minstead Church.

As one enters by the magnificent ancient door and Norman archway, there is a dangerously worn step which could prove a leg breaker.  But fear not, for the high born and distinguished people of Minstead will all enter through their private doors before settling down in front their own roaring fire.  For tacked on to this original 13th century church there are three private chapels each trying to outdo the other.   Amazingly the last of these private chapels was only ceded to the parish by the Congleton family in 1968.

On entering the nave I was surprised to find that I had sung there many years ago from the musicians gallery and can vouch for the excellent acoustics, however the overall effect in the interior reminded me of my Lego-mad grandson who, once he has completed a structure, cannot help adding flights of fancy to his original concept.  But remarkably it all seems to hang together – a living history of the remarkable journey this little village church has undergone over the past 800 years.

With such a remarkable history of Georgian preferment, the local hostelry could be called nothing else other than” The Trusty Servant”.  After doffing our caps I was confronted by a sign that strikes terror into my suburban heart “Dogs Welcome”.  Fortunately I am pleased to report no canine activity interrupted our good lunch.

Faced with a menu that displayed humorous intent I could not resist the command to put my Tongue in Cheek a thing I am often want to do.  The subsequent meal that arrived was delicious and very filling and no room was left for any afters.

The great thing about dining out is the freedom to indulge in meals that you would never think of having at home. I have never tasted cheek before but it made a good partner for the tongue but I imagine they are natural partners.  The service was very good and I suppose I will now always be complaining about inadequate serviettes.

The meal was what I expect from a village pub, wholesome well cooked and filling.  BQ


Our lunch

  • Garlic ciabatta  BQ & MW
  • Tongue in Cheek; Braised ox cheek and tongue, caramelised root vegetables, creamy mash in its own cooking liquor BQ
  • Pan fried liver with crispy bacon, bubble and squeak and onion gravy  MW
  • Sharps Special Ale BQ
  • Doom Bar Ale MW


A Post Script

I have reached the stage of life where I seldom get annoyed, irritated perhaps, but seldom driven to anger, but the notorious Lyndhurst gridlock in which I suffered in the morning annoyed me so much, because the difficulties which has steadily ruined this once attractive community are not due to a lack of funds, but is the result of intransigence by the various organisations who have to agree on a solution, but have been unable or unwilling to do so.

After our visit I returned via the motorway, twice the distance, half the time, but once home I looked on the internet to see if there was any likelihood of the mythical Lyndhurst Bypass turning into reality anytime soon and to my surprise found an extract from Hansard headed Hampshire (Lyndhurst Bypass) Bill.  This looked promising.  In the report the Noble Lords passionately and eloquently discussed Lyndhurst’s problems.  Some extracts from the debate are worth quoting:-

Lord Boyd-Carpenter;    ‘Your Lordships will hardly believe it, but the need for a bypass of Lyndhurst has been recognised for very nearly 50 years’

‘Anyone who knows the area will know too, the appalling congestion which spoils life in this attractive village. The traffic is solid through most of the day’

‘It would be impossible to find anybody in Lyndhurst who was not only anxious to have the bypass constructed, but was not perhaps becoming increasingly impatient over the delay in constructing it’

Lord Jaques;   ‘My Lords, if there were a time when someone should say “Enough is enough, and now we must decide, this is it”

Lord Congleton ; ‘This Bill, emerging at this time of year – 50 years on from the first attempts to provide a bypass relief to the village of Lyndhurst – indeed cheers my soul and I have expectations that its fruits will restore a measure at least of the former state of peace and tranquillity with which once, long ago, the village of Lyndhurst was invested until the time of increasing traffic so dispelled this happy situation.  Of course it will get the traffic moving.’

All very encouraging until I noticed the date of the debate – 26th February, 1987.     MW

The Lyndhurst High Street of my childhood

Cosham – St Philip’s Church

As we discussed this visit, BQ reminded me of the tag line often used in episodes of Monty Python in the early 70’s,   “And now for something completely different”.   St. Philips Church is certainly different in every way from any of the previous churches we have visited. For a start it is starkly modern, completed in the year that both BQ and I were born. From the outside it looks like a rather plain brick box and in fact when it was being constructed the local residents believed it was to be their new telephone exchange.  But the interior is a revelation, quite awe inspiring.

We arrived late morning with the aid of the satnav to find St Philips Church at the end of a long crescent shaped suburban street in a development on the outskirts of Portsmouth, typical of the many commuter communities that had sprang up in the pre-war years.  On arrival we found the church to be locked and I regretted not having made prior arrangements for our visit, but a quick phone call to the number shown on the adjacent notice board connected me with a most helpful lady who arrived within five minutes to let us in.

We entered via the church hall, to find an astonishing interior, brilliantly lit by the autumn sunshine streaming in through the large widows and, despite having done our normal research and seen photographs of the interior, neither of us were prepared for the sheer originality and quirkiness of the design.  Our knowledgeable lady friend who had let us in gave an expert guided tour but, not wishing to outstay our welcome; we left after 30 minutes or so and retreated back through the church hall.

On leaving, my impression was of having been in a quite remarkable building but, as a church, I have to say that it seemed to lack that aura of reverence and sanctity that we had experienced in our other visits.  However, it was clear that St. Philip’s is an important centre of community activity.  October’s programme of events includes meetings of the Ladies Harmony Choir, the Amateur Drama Group, Slimming World, the Monday Lunch Club, a Quiz Night, a Table Top Sale and the Family Film Club.  A choice many larger communities would envy.  MW


Sir Ninian Comper is considered to be the most important church architect of the 20th century and St Philips Church, his last complete work, his greatest achievement.   The interior of the church is brilliantly lit due to the large 18th century Gothick style plain glass windows.   The vaulted ceiling is supported by Corinthian columns and the floor is of polished stone. Other reviewers have suggested that in common with many of Comper’s designs, the interior is a little spoiled by the ugly seating.


Interior 2
The design is truly revolutionary.  The alter stands at what would normally be the front of the nave.  It is covered by a canopy, or ciborium, which is supported by four gilded columns, with rounded arches, surmounted by the Risen Christ and decorated with angels and birds. The underside of the canopy is blue with stars.
The superb Harrison and Harrison organ, currently out of commission, stands above the unusual font.  Comper promised that the organ was ‘incapable in competent hands of making too much noise’
font 2
Our helpful guide explaining how the font could be used for baptism by removing one of the columns in order to insert the infant.. She was unable to demonstrate this however as it was necessary for the user to wear special gloves in order to protect the gold leaf.
Comper had originally intended that stained glass should be used throughout the church, but as the project progressed, due to budgetary restraints it became necessary to restrict its inclusion to just the upper section of the east window.



Barchetta Mediterranean Restaurant, Port Solent



As the crow flies it is little more than a mile from Cosham to our lunch venue at Port Solent, but by road it was a rather tedious journey that took somewhat longer than expected, but finally we found a convenient parking spot close to our destination.  Port Solent is primarily a marina and luxury housing development built in the 1980s partly on reclaimed marshland and partly on a former landfill site.  But for us the attraction was The Boardwalk that runs alongside the marina.  Here there are more than a dozen restaurants to choose from, but today was a Friday and BQ was bound by the strictures of his faith to avoid eating meat.  I should explain that BQ and I are at opposite ends of the spiritual spectrum and, although we have had many a robust discussion on the relative merits of our positions during the early days of our friendship, we are now resigned to accepting, although not understanding, each other’s views.  But for today we needed to find a restaurant that could offer an attractive fish option and BQ soon noticed that the Dish of the Day at the Barchetta Mediterranean Restaurant was Clam Alle Vongole, a dish, we were told, that is very popular in the Catalonia region of Italy at this time of year.

For my part, the choice was for white rabbit in wine.  In the years of austerity following the end of the war when meat was severely rationed, my father kept a colony of white rabbits that bred at a rate sufficient to provide one for the pot every couple of weeks. In the early days it was my job to keep them fed and clean, but later on I was taught how to dispatch and skin them ready to give to my mother who managed to convert them into memorably delicious casseroles. And now, 70 years on, I had the opportunity to taste one more white rabbit. It was quite delicious, all the more so because I knew that on any other day of the week it would have been BQ’s choice.  He invariably opts for rabbit (the common brown variety) whenever it appears on the menu!  MW


Brian and Giuseppe

Back to Civilisation.

After weeks of countryside, pretty villages and inns the trip to the St Philip at Cosham came as a great relief to a townie like myself.  At long last we had a multiple choice of eateries along the Board Walk of Port Solent covering an assortment of nations.  All of which came as a welcome relief from the disappointment I had experienced after our visit to Compers last church.  For although the fixtures and fittings were outstanding the building seemed at odds with itself having too much empty space.  This was exemplified by a small tent erected in the corner which was set aside for prayer, inside was a crucifix on a table and a few chairs but at last I found somewhere to pray.   Comper would have had a fit but it served him right!

As it was Friday, I was looking for fish, and the Italian restaurant Barchetta had a special offer on a dish with clams.  In the past, a friend who lived in Paris and was a foodie, was instructed by his local restaurant to return from his frequent visits to Southampton with a box of Solent clams as these were the best.  I am pleased to say that I can now agree with his judgement as these were delicious.

MW however completely out-staged me by noticing that rabbit was on the menu. As both of us are pre-second world war babies, we were weaned during the dark days of food rationing on a regular diet of rabbit and as such cannot resist it when on the menu.  Although my clams were delicious I could not resist envying MW as he constantly extolled the excellence of his meal, although I hope that in future he could spare me the  wartime story of his pet rabbits and the essential cricket stump.

As regular diners will know, the atmosphere of Italian eating is usually accompanied by a raucous pantomime performed by the waiting staff and Barchetta did not disappoint in this aspect.  Giuseppe and Maria were warm and welcoming in the great tradition of hospitality.  After some conversation it became clear that I had met Giuseppe over forty years ago when he was part of the best fish restaurant in Southampton and it was good to see him again in such good form.

My only criticism is reserved for my usual moan about the inadequacy of the napkins, but all was saved when I managed to borrow a tea towel from the kitchen.  This was a happy dining experience and both of us felt it well deserved its four stars   BQ

Our lunch

  • Mushrooms in a creamy garlic sauce on a bed of stone baked ciabatta  BQ
  • Asparagus baked in a buttery sauce topped with parmesan cheese  MW
  • Clam alle Vongole;  Spaghetti with clams, cherry tomatoes, white wine, garlic and parsley  BQ
  • White rabbit in a wine, capers, peppers, onion and herb sauce served with garlic infused new potatoes and fine green beans  MW
  • Cheese Board  BQ
  • Trio di gelato MW
  • Pinot Grigio Bianca  BQ
  • Pinot Grigio Rosa,  Australian Shiraz   MW



Idsworth – The Church of St. Hubert

BQ loves browsing in charity shops, whether its searching for obscure vinyl records or unusual books, he has a keen eye for a bargain.  But recently he showed me a new acquisition, a second hand book entitled England’s Thousand Best Churches for which he had paid the princely sum of £2.  It is written in an informative and entertaining style and I had to concede it is an excellent addition to the reference books that we already use.  Best of all it included a description of a church that neither of us had heard of, despite being relatively close by.

It was The Church of St. Hubert and the visit turned out to be one of the most moving experiences of all our visits so far.  It is a very simple church of great age sitting in the middle of a field seemingly rather sad having survived all manner of turbulent events in its 1,000 year history from which it has emerged relatively unscathed. But it had a haunting aura that is difficult to describe, but has nevertheless lingered in the memory.  MW



For over 150 years the sight of this pretty little chapel standing in the middle of a field will have been a familiar one to railway passengers speeding between London and Portsmouth.  Many will have wondered just why it stands in such splendid isolation and what had become of the community that it had once served.  They would be right to wonder because it was not always so alone.

When Idsworth Church was constructed in 1053 it was at the centre of a small village that once occupied the field that we see surrounding the church today.  For over 300 years it served generations of villagers until the disastrous year of 1348.  A long forgotten small port in Hampshire has the dubious honour of being the probable point of entry for the Black Death in that fateful summer.  This merciless plague killed between 30 – 50% of the country’s total population, but it was particularly devastating for the small closely knit villages of Hampshire.  After the plague had swept through Idsworth, the village was abandoned and after several centuries all traces of it had disappeared – buried under the plough.

It would be over 200 years before the church once more rang to the sound of communal singing.  In the late 16th century Idsworth House, a grand Elizabethan courtyard manor, was erected just where a collection of buildings can be seen at the far end of the path that leads up to the church.  With the members of the household, together with various employees and tenants there would, once again, have been quite a congregation attending Church on a Sunday

But in 1849, the tranquil life of the valley was disturbed by the arrival of the railway, the line of which ran so close to Idsworth House that it was separated from its grounds and walks.  The then owner, Sir Jervoise Clarke Jervoise, found the situation intolerable, but accepted the compensation money from the railway company and promptly demolished the manor and built a new Idsworth house some two miles away taking with him the house contents and even the panelling.

Once again the church was left marooned on the hillside with no village, no road, and a much reduced congregation, but worst of all little income available for its maintenance.

Deterioration was halted in 1913 when the Lord of the Manor commissioned a young architect, H.S Goodhart-Rendell, to carry out repairs and improvements to the building and it is he who we have to thank for installing a new window on the south side of the chancel which so beautifully illuminates the treasure of St. Huberts, the wonderful 14th century wall paintings



When Henry VIII ordered the removal of all Catholic art in churches as part of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, it is indeed fortunate that in many cases local officials merely covered them with whitewash as a quick and easy way of following orders. In Idsworth church that is exactly what happened to its wall paintings. However, 300 years later in 1864, vestiges of the paintings had become visible and the rector, the Reverend J Astley, had the layers of whitewash removed revealing these wonderful artistic representations.

As in many English churches these wall paintings taught the story of Christ to the largely uneducated people who worshiped here in Medieval times, and the fact that no village now remains, makes them all the more poignant.

The meaning of the various scenes in the painting has been much debated but one is thought to show St Hubert either healing or restoring to human form a ‘hairy’ anchorite or hermit, who walks on all fours as a penance for inchastity.  In the lower half of the mural, St John the Baptist’s head is shown being presented to Salome at King Herod’s feast.


The Nave.  The solid looking pews date from the 17th century.  The front ones – gated box pews – would have been reserved for the Lord of the Manor’s family and guests.. The rather spectacular ‘millennium’ mural above the beam is a recent addition.

B.Q’s impressions

Despite all the pre-visit reading and photographs nothing prepared me for the joy I felt at my first sight of this marvel on a sunny September morning.

We found Saint Hubert’s Chapel standing  proud and assertive on the summit of a small hillock, a true symbol of Britain’s heritage, spanning across the Saxon and Norman divide with no sense of exterior conflict, truly a shining beacon of this country’s Christian heritage.

The walk up the grass path to the church was not as difficult as I had imagined, providing that I stopped frequently to get my breath back, the lure of the jewel before me kept me going.   MW as usual, strode ahead in order to set up his drone whilst the sun shone.

Almost like a penitent seeking absolution, I pushed open the ancient chapel door and was immediately confronted by a black poodle, followed by its owner.  Regular readers will know of my aversion to dogs, so I felt it was as if St. Hubert was expelling the darkness from the shrine.

Sinking into the nearest pew, the church was a delight as shafts of sunlight shone through the windows, their large size made it obvious that significant changes had been made over the centuries since the first part of the chapel was erected by the Goodwin family in 1053.  The box pews in the nave and the Jacobean pulpit complete with sounding board, are all later additions that seem to be perfectly at home here.

Surprisingly however, the whole hung together beautifully as most of the restoration had been done out of love for the church, including the more recent Millennium Fresco.

When alone in a church I often sing a hymn to test the acoustic and I have to report that this chapel exceeded all my expectations – even my voice sounded sonorous.

The descent was much easier and I had been very privileged to visit a gem which is still an active church and a beacon of continuing belief in faith that has stretched back for over a thousand years .    BQ

Finchdean and The George Inn



Just a mile away from the church is the nearest settlement, Finchdean. 

Whenever we choose a new area to visit we both like to do some homework beforehand to be sure we don’t miss anything of interest.  When researching Finchdean I came across a photograph of the village taken in 1955 and wondered just how much it had changed in the past 60 years. In fact it didn’t seem to have changed much at all.  It has an old world charm about it helped by the fact there was virtually no traffic passing through the village, plenty of cyclists, but just the occasional vehicle

The George Inn seemed to be unchanged from the front, but at the rear there was a large conservatory, brightly decorated which is where we had our lunch,  albeit in solitary isolation

The food was tasty and well presented.  My marinated King Prawns were outstanding and the meal was efficiently served by our friendly waitress Leanne, a student at Brighton University.




Our lunch

  • Focaccia bread with herb infused oil & olives  BQ
  • King Prawns marinated in chilli and garlic with coconut and coriander cream  MW
  • Duo of lamb chops marinated in rosemary, lemon and garlic with a timbale of ratatouille  BQ
  • Spiced beef meatballs with spaghetti and parmesan  MW
  • French Malbec    BQ
  • Australian Shiraz MW


Broughton – St Mary’s Church

Despite it being a bank holiday the winding road between Romsey and Broughton was almost traffic free, just as well as there are sections where it is too narrow for two vehicles to pass.  However, it is an attractive route, but must be the road with the greatest number of bridges per mile in Hampshire as it crosses and re-crosses the various strands of the River Test. 

St. Mary’s Church was easy to find, right in the centre of Broughton conveniently opposite our lunch venue, The Tally Ho!

On entering the church we were surprised to find a sign warning us not to enter the chancel, and if we did, an alarm would be triggered.  This was disappointing as within this area there were some interesting features that we had hoped to see. Fortunately, in the entrance porch we found the telephone number of the churchwarden and although he was unavailable his wife helpfully advised that we could safely pass into the alarmed section provided we avoided touching any fixtures or furniture within the chancel. BQ, who is a little unsteady on his feet decided this would be too risky, but I was able to venture through. It was certainly worth the effort, if only to see the fascinating 15th century stone piscina with its octagonal bowl carved with roses. Underneath, three grotesque figures are lurking, one a devil catching a man in a noose.     MW



St Mary’s Church can be traced back almost a thousand years beginning in the 11th century when it consisted of a small building on the site of the present nave.   That early church consisted of a nave and chancel, but no tower. The early stonework can be seen in the exterior quoins on the south side of the church.In the late 12th century a north aisle was added and around 1210 a south aisle also. The nave was lengthened in 1220, when the large west door was added. In the 15th century the lower part of the west tower was built, and it would take another 400 years before the top section of the tower was completed. The different styles and materials between the top and lower parts of the tower can clearly be seen.
The nave suffered considerable damage during a fire in 1635 and evidence of its intensity can be seen in the splintered chalk arches and capitals.  The pleasing looking pews are 19th century, but contain panels from their 17th century predecessors.


The fine 15th century pillar piscina would have originally have been attached to the wall. Piscina are common in churches of this period. They are generally positioned close to the altar and are reserved for the washing of communion vessels, for disposing of materials used in the sacraments and water from liturgical ablutions.   The sacrarium, or drain must return the water directly to the earth.
The 13th century door moved to its present position when the tower was constructed

The Columbarium or Dovecote

Up to 1730 when ‘Turnip’ Townsend introduced the English to the idea of growing root crops to feed cattle through the winter, most animals were slaughtered and eaten in November. Pigeons then replaced meat in the diet as they could provide an almost constant supply of fresh meat because of their exceptionally short breeding cycle. Every 6 weeks they could lay a pair of eggs, hatch them out and fatten them up on pigeon milk (pre-digested food) until the two 1lb squabs were in prime condition ready for the pot.

The construction of columbaria was highly regulated and restricted to manorial gardens and churchyards.  Permission was first granted in 1341 for one to be built in Broughton but it was rebuilt as we we see it today in 1684.  The round shaped dovecote was evolved in the Middle Ages because the onerous task of tending to the nesting boxes could be made easier by the use of a revolving mechanism known as a potence.  A massive central post with an attached ladder could be turned easily by a man high on the ladder as he tended to the 482 nesting boxes.  482 pairs of pigeons feeding on the crops of tenants and neighbours could produce 3½ tons of meat a year at no cost to the owners.   The potence was generally replaced once a century as the unpleasant environment tended to rot the woodwork.  In 1984 the local history group decided to mark National Heritage Year by reconstructing the mechanism although only traces of the previous one remained. 



Surrounded by glorious Hampshire countryside Broughton is a pretty village that exudes a sense of peace and tranquility.  It has a population of around 1,000, a figure that has remained constant throughout the past 900 years.  But it was not always peaceful.  We first learned of the swing riots that affected much of the south of England during our visit to Selborne in June. These insurrections followed the mechanisation of farms in the early 19th century that caused so much unemployment and hardship to the many farm labourers who were made redundant.

In Broughton threshing machines were destroyed in two farms on 22nd November 1830.  Six men were arrested but because there was considerable sympathy for the plight of farm workers only the ringleader, John Lush,  was found guilty. The sentence was seven years transportation, but in reality he spent just one year languishing in various prison hulks in Portsmouth harbour before being pardoned.


The Tally Ho!

At one time there were four pubs in Broughton, now there are just two, The Greyhound, called The Dog in the 19th century, and a few doors down, the Tally Ho!  We chose the Tally Ho!


In fairness, I have to say that we probably arrived for our lunch at a difficult time. The staff were busy clearing up from a three day beer and music festival that had been held in the garden until the small hours of the previous night and as the chef in charge of the barbecue confided, there was very little food left to offer.  But what we had was very tasty and we had the good fortune that the delightful Kerry was on duty.   Good fortune because as she passed our table she overheard us discussing what on earth a mechanical potence inside the churchyard dovecote could possibly be.  She stopped to explain and, after I said that it was a pity that we had found the dovecote door locked, she said that was no problem she could get us a key as one was kept behind the bar. I was most thankful and went to investigate while BQ relaxed with a coffee. On my return Kerry mentioned that both the Pork and the Water Buffalo that we had enjoyed for our lunch came from the nearby farm which was worth a visit.
The delightful Kerry
The Water Buffalo

The Party’s Over

So sung Ella and it was so true of our visit to the Tally Ho, three days of carousing at the Broughton Beer Festival had depleted the regulars of their usual high spirits.

The roadies were busy packing up the electronic equipment on a stage that would not have looked out of place at Glastonbury.     A noticeboard listing the multiple acts that had entertained over the previous three days stood by the side of the stage.

The helpful Kerry was busy picking up rubbish in her plastic gloves complete with a black dustbin and the few customers who came in spoke in glowing terms of the previous night.    In the immortal words of my father yet again in life ;-     “I had missed the boat”.

The Honey Buzzard beer could not be faulted in any way;   any comment on a pulled pork sub (a new word to me) is beneath my dignity.

MW in his usual way has covered the church and the village very well, and being unable to totter too far for the risk of setting off any alarm I sat and prayed on the most uncomfortable pews I have ever come across.     The local congregation must have very small bottoms!

Also please don’t mention the buffalo in the room.     BQ

Our lunch

  • Pulled Pork Sub with all the trimmings    BQ
  • Water Buffalo Burger  MW
  • Honey Buzzard ale    BQ
  • Tally Ho! ale MW




Portchester – St Mary’s

It is surprising that neither of us had ever been to Portchester, particularly in the case of BQ who has lived in the area for over 30 years.  It is an interesting and rather beautiful place situated at the tip of a promontory within Portsmouth Harbour and it has a long and unsettled history.

The main feature is the Roman fort built between 250 and 350ad, just one of a series of coastal forts constructed to meet the threat from Saxon pirates who were raiding the south coast of Roman Britain.  When the Roman occupation ended the fort became a place of refuge for the Saxons who, by the 10th century were plagued by increasing attacks by Viking raiders.

The castle, constructed within the walls of the fort, was built during the first half of the 12th century and, at that time, most of the remaining ground was used for farming.   Between 1665 and 1814 the fort assumed a new role, that of a prison.  At its peak the prison population stood at 8,000.  The inmates were of many different nationalities and backgrounds, including a group of 2,000 rebellious slaves brought from the Caribbean in 1796.

The object of our interest however, St. Mary’s Church, is tucked away within the fort walls in the southern corner and it seems remarkable that it has survived relatively unscathed for almost 900 years, despite all of the turmoil that must have surrounded it.

I have to say that I was not particularly impressed with the church interior which I found rather stark and devoid of atmosphere.  BQ disagreed, probably because he judges our visits from a rather more spiritual point of view.   MW

St. Mary’s Church surrounded by the waters of Portsmouth Harbour
Portchester Fort, Church and Castle, and in the background, Porchester village
The rather plain nave with its severity of design gives an impression of height and narrowness.  The church was originally built in cruciform shape, but sadly the south transept fell into disrepair and was demolished in the 16th century


The surviving north transept.

The font is genuine Norman, one of the oldest in the county and is made from Caen stone.  The carving depicts spirals of flowers, birds, serpents and cherubs and is said to represent the Garden of Eden.  One can only guess at the number of infants baptised in this beautiful creation over the past 900 years.
pulpit and alter area
The Victorian oak pulpit and, in the background, part of the recently designed ‘alter area’, the oak rail and carpet being installed as recently as 2015.
The earliest of the two magnificent wall panels.  This one, on the south wall bears the arms of Elizabeth I and shows the date 1577.  It was erected to commemorate a restoration that was carried out in her name by Sir Thomas Cornwallis.
Queen Ann Bounty
The panel on the north wall, erected some 130 years later, is more elaborate and has an interesting background story.  Over the centuries Portchester fort with its high perimeter wall was used for housing prisoners on several occasions .  In 1653 it was the turn of the Dutch. They were captured in the English Channel by Admiral Blake and were held in such harsh conditions that they finally protested by setting fire to the church. Arranging for repairs and restoration to be carried out took a very long time indeed and it wasn’t until 1710 that the church was finally reopened following a petition from the parishioners to Queen Ann.  The £400 pound cost included £3.10s “for a hogshead of strong beer to drink the Queen’s health” during the opening celebrations and the occasion was recorded by this remarkable panel.


The west door is a wonderful example of Norman stonework with its variety of patterns. Only the keenest eye will detect the small carved figure just above the right capital which depicts Sagittarius, half horse, half archer – the arms of King Stephen who usurped the throne on the death of Henry I.

Church ext
As with our previous two church visits, St Mary’s Church has an adjacent substantial yew tree, nowhere near as old as the others, but it does have a well recorded provenance. In the early 19th century, the fort was home to a large numbers of French prisoners captured  during the various Napoleonic Wars. Before being evacuated back to France they were put to work restoring the church, whitewashing the walls and painting the pews. Unfortunately the fumes from their kitchen fire destroyed an earlier yew tree and in 1813 a replacement (the one we see today) was planted. The cost, which was charged to the prisoners, was one shilling and three pence, then quite a considerable sum.
Sally and Jan
Our visit to St. Marys was made the more pleasurable by meeting two charming sisters, Sally and Jan who arrived  at the church at the same time as us. They had travelled from opposite ends of the country, Yorkshire and Dorset, for a nostalgic return to their birthplace.  Over coffee in the church tearoom they explained that they had been born nearby and both had been baptised and married in St Mary’s.  This was their first return to Portchester for over 30 years.


The Cormorant




In times past there were many pubs in the vicinity of Portchester Castle, now there is just one, The Cormorant.  The deeds show the premises to have been a public house in 1814 and it seems likely that it first opened its doors a little before that.   In the nineteenth century it had a dubious reputation with connections to the infamous Wicor smuggling gang and was also known as a place where cock and rat fighting took place in the bars.  By contrast it is now a busy family pub equally renowned for its good food as well as a congenial atmosphere.

old pub

After months of our church visits the difference between MW and myself is self evident, even down to our favourite tipple at lunch and with regards to St. Mary’s here to I have to disagree with his comments. I have seldom been to an ancient seat of worship where the Christian sense of community was stronger.  The tea room, added recently, was so hospitable with its cheerful volunteer staff, and five star trip advisor comments.
All this attached to a cruciform Norman church, a miracle of survival hardly altered except for the loss of the south transept and north chapel.
Originally an Augustinian Priory, the monks moved after ten years to Southwick (which we visited earlier in this series) so perhaps the mixture of military and devotional did not sit well together.
Still visible is the blocked up entrance to the cloisters, but the real star is the crossing piers with their decorative capitals.
They have a wide variety of carved patterns and some particularly exotic examples in the north transept would appear to be of a later date.
It is interesting to note that the present Anglican Church in true ecumenical spirit allows the local Roman Catholics to celebrate Mass every Saturday.
This courtesy was granted after their own modern church fell down; so much for progress!
The Cormorant public house could not be handier and was very popular with its dining facilities fully occupied, a sure sign of of its quality and attentive service.
My fish and chips rounded off a memorable visit.   BQ

Our lunch

  • Traditional Fish and Chips      BQ
  • Lemon Sole and Asparagus Fishcakes with Boiled Potatoes and Salad   MW
  • Pino Grigio – San Valentino, Italy     BQ &  MW